Book event tells story of two families' journeys after World War II

CONTACT: Dr. Oren Stier, Director of Holocaust Studies Initiative, Florida International University and 305.348.6729

Book event tells story of two families' journeys after World War II

Nineteenth-century American author Henry David Thoreau once penned “we are often imprisoned rather than housed” by our property. He could not know that a century later, a real-life Nazi-era drama would unfold about a house, two families – one Jewish, the other not – and their quest to return it to its rightful owner.

One person at the heart of the controversy was J. Arthur Heise, himself a writer, who went on to co-author a book about the saga and its unlikely outcome. Heise will tell his story at a program Thursday, March 6 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach.

The 6:30 p.m. event, which will include a wine and cheese reception and book signing after the talk, is free and open to the public.

Aptly titled Das Haus, German for The House, Heise’s book chronicles the struggle of his family and that of Melanie Kuhr, both of whom started out as antagonists and ended up collaborating on this work.

The families first crossed paths in 1941 when Heise’s parents purchased the house, located in the former East Germany, from Kuhr’s great-grandparents Theodor and Helene Simonsohn, a Jewish couple who built the house. As Nazi tyranny spread and the family feared its safety, the Simonsohns sold to the Heises to raise money for their daughter and granddaughter to flee to England. Three years later, the Simonsohns, who remained behind, perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

A year after that, in 1945, Heise and his family were evicted from their home following the Soviets’ post-war occupation of East Germany.

It was when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 that Heise and Kuhr individually began their journey to reclaim ownership of their ancestral home, resulting in a 10-year struggle as adversaries that ultimately led to an unlikely partnership on this book. Each took a different chapter to weave throughout their personal family stories of the house along with the turbulent history of 20th century Germany, from World War I through the Nazi era, the Soviet occupation of East Germany, the rise and fall of East Germany, all the way to the post-Cold War struggles to determine the rightful heirs to a property sold a half-century earlier by a Jewish family to a member of the Nazi Party.

Heise, who lives in Hendersonville, TN, is the founding dean emeritus of Florida International University’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication and author of two other non-fiction books. Kuhr is a CEO and part-owner of a company in Dallas.

Presented by FIU’s Jewish Studies Initiatives, the program is a project of the FIU Holocaust Studies Initiative.

For more information, contact the museum at 786.972.3175 or