Wolfgang Haney (1924-2017)

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Annika Backe

October 19, 2017 – On October 13, 2017, Wolfgang Haney died. He ranked among the most distinguished collectors of Judaica with which he illustrated the everyday history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Comprising more than 12,000 objects, parts of his collection were on display in numerous exhibitions in Europe and overseas – together with the ‘Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung’ (Federal Agency for Civic Education), he organized nearly 70 presentations in Germany alone. He authored several books. The community of collectors has lost a man who firmly believed that his actions could change the world for the better. He fought to prevent something terrible as the Holocaust from ever happening again. 

Wolfgang Haney at the opening of a meeting of the ‘Numismatische Gesellschaft zu Berlin’ (Berlin Numismatic Society) in the summer of 2016. Photo: Bodo Heyne.

Living in Germany

Wolfgang Haney was born in Berlin on January 9, 1924. He was only nine years old when the Nazis rose to political power in Germany on January 30, 1933 – a mere child, but a child that watched attentively Germany undergoing a change. As the son of a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, Haney experienced the horrors of the Holocaust at first hand. Even though he successfully passed an examination for the most gifted, he was forced to leave school – being classified as a ‘Mischling of the first degree’ – and take up an apprenticeship as a brick-layer; his father’s music school was closed down. When his family’s house was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, the Haneys were forced to continue their life in the basement. 

Many members of his family perished in the Holocaust. Haney’s mother only avoided deportation by fleeing into the woods outside Berlin and hiding in a wooden shed she built with her own hands. After the war, Haney decided to stay in Germany, however. As early as 1942, a special permit had allowed him to study engineering. In post-war Germany, he then helped to rebuild Berlin, first as an alderman of the Berlin Magistrate, then as department head of the utility company BEWAG. 

Fragments from the past

Although Haney had started to collect coins and stamps already during childhood, it was not until his 1991 retirement that he entered the most important stage of his collecting activities. He decided to collect objects from the everyday anti-Semitic life in order “to remember all the people who died in our family”.

Haney found more than enough material for his collection. His fields of interest included postcards and letters sent from concentration camps, photographs, posters, leaflets, stickers, stamps, badges, caricatures, ration cards, and currency used in concentration camps. Among the books he wrote are many that ring a bell with numismatists: ‘Kennzeichen “Jude”’, a study on the German ration cards for Jews, and ‘Der Jude nahm uns Gold, Silber und Speck’, a book focusing on propaganda currency, hence banknotes that already featured anti-Semitic messages when they were produced, or were countermarked in this way. 

One person can change the world

Written together with Hans-Ludwig Grabowski, his book ‘Geld des Terrors’ became his greatest success. This catalog containing all historic bills from camps and ghettos turned out to be vital in the legal assessment of the Holocaust survivors’ claim to a pension. On the basis of the bills the lawyer was able to prove that these activities didn’t classify as any kind of voluntary wage work. The German pension fund lost the case. 

An active member of the numismatic community

Wolfgang Haney was an active collector and loved socializing with other collectors. He was a member of the ‘Numismatische Gesellschaft zu Berlin’ (Berlin Numismatic Society of Berlin for many years and chairman of the ‘Berliner Münzfreunde e.V.’ for 30 years. Taken last year, our photo clearly shows how much he enjoyed meeting his collector-friends: Wolfgang Haney attended the meetings of his association regularly even if he was already more than 90 years old!
Wolfgang Haney was awarded the ‘Bundesverdienstkreuz’ (Federal Cross of Merit) in recognition of his commitment. In 2006, he was awarded the ‘Verdienstorden des Landes Berlin’ (Order of Merit of the State of Berlin), the highest distinction Berlin can award.

The community of all coin enthusiasts will remember Wolfgang Haney as an avid collector and a committed man. We need people like him to remember that all men are born equal, being entitled to a life, to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. 

More information on Wolfgang Haney’s passion for collecting can be obtained from the German websites Tip-Berlin, schoah.org and israelogie.

Some of Wolfgang Haney’s books can be ordered on the Gietl Verlag website.