An inventor who, at the hands of the Nazis, had almost disappeared into the mists of time
Julius Fromm (Konin, Russia, March 4, 1883 - London, May 12, 1945)
How a young man from a part of Poland appropriated by the Tsar went to Berlin, rolled cigarettes there for years and sold them in pubs in the evenings himself, became responsible for five little sisters and brothers, studied chemistry through evening classes and got the idea came to turn the unreliable condom into a modern product and how he produced more than 25 million fleece-thin and especially seamless condoms per year with about a thousand employees for all of Europe, how he became very rich and how the Nazis forced him to leave Germany and of all things Nazi General Hermann Goering took over his factories, and how the Soviets expropriated his company for the second time after World War II, although he did not experience this again because three days after the Nazi capitulation he was delighted to return to Berlin in his home. London to death.
May 8, 1945: Victory Day in London. Hundreds of thousands take to the streets. Trafalgar Square is black with people. A German industrialist who was forced to sell his company for a piece of cake in 1938 and then settled in London joins the celebrations.
Because Nazi Germany has been defeated, most certainly, but also because he can finally realize the plans he has been plotting for seven years. Because he can rebuild his bombed-out factory in Berlin and resume production in another factory.
He is 62, a lot is still possible. Three days later, he gets out of bed in the morning, opens the curtains and collapses. A doctor called to the rescue can only determine his death. "His heart couldn't take the excitement, especially the joy of returning," his son Edgar testified.
Thus the inventor of the modern condom, the wafer-thin, seamless preservative, an article of guaranteed quality with a surname as a brand name, disappeared in the mists of time.
Until that day in early 1995 when the well-known German journalist Michael Sontheimer overheard an endearing elderly gentleman named Edgar Fromm talk on a television talk show about his father Julius, who had made the condom a successful method of contraception in 1920s Germany.
Then a light dawned on him: a 'Fromms', two 'Frommsen' or a 'Frommser' was still a generic name for condoms until the 1960s. The fact that behind this was the German-Jewish industrialist Julius Fromm, who had fled from Berlin to London in 1938, that was new.
He visited son Edgar 'Eddie' Fromm in London and wrote a story for the weekly magazine Der Spiegel.
An extensive article that started with the remarkable sentence: 'I grew up with the condom and I will die with the condom.' In 2007 Sontheimer published a book about the man together with the journalist Götz Aly. Since then, Julius Fromm once again belongs to the known part of history.
Although his private estate and company archives have been lost in the turmoil of the war. Two wills and five letters are all that remain of his hand. On top of the advertising texts, of course, because Fromm was a true genius in the promotion of his taboo product.
Julius Fromm was born Israel From on March 4, 1883 in Konin, one hundred and twenty kilometers east of Poznan, an area that then belonged to the empire of the Russian tsar.
The Polish Konin, which today has eighty thousand inhabitants, was then a spot with five thousand people, two thousand of whom were Jewish by origin. These Jews had fled persecution to the East from France, the Rhineland and Bohemia in the Middle Ages.
Konin was one of the twelve Polish municipalities where they were allowed to settle. Julius' father was called Baruch, his mother Sarah. He had an older brother, but Moszeik, Helene, Siegmund, Esther, Sander and Bernhard were born after him.
The Jews of Konin were penniless and under the tsar they could not expect anything else in the future. In 1893 Baruch and his family left for Berlin, the spectacularly growing capital of young Germany.
In Berlin they ended up in the 'Scheunenviertel', the 'Schurenkwartier', the poorest district of the city, where the Berlin underworld, criminals, prostitutes, drunkards, but also ragged intellectuals and Eastern European Jews found shelter.
Baruch changed his name to Bernhard, his wife Sara became Regina. Szalam, the eldest son, was henceforth called Salomon. Julius seemed an appropriate name for Israel. Esther became Else. Max became sick.
Father Fromm found work as a cigarette seller, at a time when they were not yet industrially manufactured.
In an address book from those years he is listed first as a cigarette dealer, later as a cigarette manufacturer. "Manufacturer" meant that wife and children rolled cigarettes until the middle of the night (two hours). Berlin at that time had 21 factories and 700
'family businesses'. Those who had growing children and were handy could produce up to 3,000 cigarettes a day.
Father Fromm died in 1898, barely 42 years old. Julius was 15 at the time. And Regina was heavily pregnant with her eighth child, her sixth son, whom she named after his father Bernhard.
Because his older brother Salomon had left for London, fifteen-year-old Julius had to take care of his mother and six children. From 1899 to 1907 that was with cigarette trade. While he worked in a real factory, the 'Heimarbeit' continued at home.
Julius Fromm married in 1907 and named the child who was born a short time later Max.
But less than four years later, his mother Regina also passed away. 'Stuffing cigarettes forever wasn't enough for him,' his son Edgar later recalled, 'so from 1912 he began to study chemistry in evening courses, especially rubber chemistry. That's how he ended up with condoms.'
Barely two years later, Julius/Israel founded the one-man company 'Israel Fromm, Fabrikationsund Verkaufsgeschäft für Parfümerien und Gummiwaren'. He had a telephone number, a bank account number and a telegraphic address.
And he immediately spoke of rubber articles that were 'seamless', a novelty.
Although Charles Goodyear vulcanized the rubber with sulfur from 1839, rubber remained a raw material until the twentieth century. Early rubber condoms were clearly related to a bicycle tire and had a thick seam.
Since the product belonged to a parallel world, both its origin and quality were obscure.
The definition of a condom given by Marquise de Sévigné (1626-1696) in a letter to her daughter: 'C'est une cuirasse contre le plaisir, une toile d'araignée contre le danger', (a harness against pleasure and a spider's web against danger) also applied more than three hundred years later, both in Europe and in the United States.
Edgar Fromm: 'Shortly before the First World War, my father tried to turn an unlikely, usually defective product into a serious branded item. This was to serve both as protection against the fiercely raging venereal diseases and for family planning.
In this he has succeeded particularly well. After all, he had enormous commercial talent.'
As success increased, so did the address of Fromm's branches. The official company and brand name 'Fromms Act' dates from 1916, in the middle of the First World War. No one ever knew exactly what he meant by Act.
Sounding English anyway, it could mean 'deed' but also 'a nude' (Ein Akt), or simply be the abbreviation of Aktiengesellschaft (stock company). Anyway, it sounded interesting.
Fromm put three preservatives in one box, striped in his favorite colors of green and violet, and charged 72 pfennigs for them, which was not cheap, but cheaper than the competition. He perfected the production process and paid on a piece rate basis.
He made good money.
The procedure was basically that of today: he immersed glass flasks in a bath of rubber that had been liquefied with petrol, benzene and carbon tetrachloride. After two dips, a rubber fleece settled over the flasks. Then an edge was brushed on the open side.
The condoms were then vulcanized in special ovens. Temperature and duration played a major role in making the condoms firm yet elastic – and in being able to store them. According to Fromm himself, in his advertisements, this required highly specialized Arbeitspersonal.
The condom was then 'dusted' with a lubricant to obtain a silky surface and then rolled off the cobs, tested and packaged. Inspectors received a premium for each faulty specimen they found.
In the same way he made finger sleeves for operations, rubber gloves, pacifiers and pacifiers.
As early as 1919, Fromm was able to buy a spacious villa for his family with three sons in Zehlendorf, a better neighborhood in the southwest of Berlin. He was also the first man in Berlin to drive a giant Cadillac.
Two million German soldiers returned from the Great War with a venereal disease. The Anglo-French occupying army also suffered from syphilis. In 1919, the US Army counted no fewer than 400,000 syphilis patients. An American record.
Fromm could only advertise his condoms in that sentence: "Protective against disease." Advertising for a contraceptive was considered an incitement to fornication and was punishable by imprisonment.
Berlin had its own roaring twenties and copied Paris. Sexual morals deteriorated.
Otto Friedrich in his study Before the Flood: 'Berlin nightclubs were the most immoral in Europe; the booted prostitutes waving their umbrellas were the most curious.' As long as your pants hang on the chandelier, I know you love me, was a well-known song according to Friedrich.
Friedrich: 'Yet Berlin in the 1920s was different from any other city in the world, not only because it was what it was, but also because of the fate lurking around the corner.' A doomed city. Babylon.
The history of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) is one of uprisings, government crises, coup attempts, riots and political assassinations. Relative prosperity reigned from 1924, but the world crisis of 1929 rekindled the contrast between the extreme left and the extreme right.
Communists and socialists fought each other in the streets and gradually the power of the National Socialist NSDAP grew.
Uncertain times, times of crisis and freer sexual morality all favored Fromm's 'rubber goods'. Women use the 'Frommser' to stop letting nature determine their number of children. At the same time prudishness prevailed.
For decades, every pack of Fromms Act contained a piece of paper that the customer could slide over the counter without words at the drugstore or pharmacy. It read: "Would you please discreetly give me 3 pieces of Fromms gummies."
A masterstroke by the inventor.
It would not be until 1932 before Fromm could openly recommend his products in a drugstore magazine: because they were truly transparent, the thickness was the same over the entire surface, because they had been double-checked, they had no unpleasant, 'disturbing illusion' smell and they were not perceived as a foreign body (Fremdkörper) because of their 'silky smoothness'.
Recommendations from which common shortcomings can be derived.
In 1920 Fromm employed twelve people. That year he also acquired German citizenship after some insistence. In 1922 he built his first factory in Friedrichshagen, the far east of Berlin. In 1926 he already produced 24 million here
preservatives on an annual basis. By 1928 he had trading offices all over Europe, from Constantinople to London, in Antwerp and The Hague, as well as in Reykjavik and Auckland. The first controversial vending machines date from 1928: a cultural revolution that does not
would take a long time. For Christians, the vending machine encouraged immorality, for the Nazis the all too easy spread of the condom threatened population growth, that was not the intention. The Volkskraft had to be safeguarded.
Fromm also advertised with the advice: 'Verlangen Sie die guten Gummischwämme!' (Ask for the good rubber sponges!). In the right shops you did get Julius Fromm and his three sons in Berlin with that request, fromm's Act-preservatives.
In 1929, Julius Fromm was wealthy enough to commission the Bauhaus architects Arthur Korn and Siegfried Weitzmann to design an ultra-modern factory in Köpenick, in the southeast of Berlin.
Completely made of steel and glass, with the most modern amenities, one of Berlin's most original buildings. Production in 1931: 50 million condoms. Market share in Germany: 90 percent. The world crisis completely passed Fromm's attention.
A government report from 1934 states that Fromm paid his employees über Tarif, that all workshops were immaculate, with good ventilation, heated in winter and air-cooled in summer. All employees also received cheap midday meals of 'soup, meat and compote'.
Pure German 'Precious Product'
At the end of January 1933, Hitler came to power. Fromm's two directors were both members of the NSDAP. And a Fromms Act condom was a pure German Edelprodukt, according to the advertisements. Nothing wrong? "Hitlers come and go," Julius opined.
Barely a few days later – even before the big book burning of May 10 – he received a tip from a friend in the police that his eldest son Max was on the blacklist and would be arrested the next day.
Julius Fromm was considered an authoritarian but liberal man.
When his son Max told him that he wanted to go to the theater school of the famous director Max Reinhardt, he initially said: 'I will not pay for that study.' Max Reinhardt thought that the driven Max could also study at his institute for free.
And Julius said, "Okay then, but see that you become a very good actor." In 1933 Max was 26. He had collaborated with everyone of name and fame, but he had also written anti-Nazi texts in the cabarets. It's about time he disappeared.
A little later Fromm sent his second son Herbert to London – his best export country – to set up a small condom factory. The third son Edgar could go to a Swiss boarding school.
In those early Nazi years, it was the intellectuals and artists who had to get off the fastest under pressure from Goebbels. Jewish industrialists remained relatively unscathed during this period.
Although. One of Julius Fromm's few surviving letters is addressed to the Berlin police president. In it he expresses his great loyalty to the German state. The letter is dated January 4, 1934. He already knew clearly what time it was.
Nevertheless, he was still allowed to wear his condoms with official approval to the foreign guests of the 1936 Olympic Games. That same year he submitted an improvement to the sliding quality of his condoms to the patent office in Bern.
He paid for a patent in thirty countries.
Ultimately, his numerous advertisements hastened his decline. One day a journalist from the influential, anti-Semitic magazine Der Stürmer read a speech by Rudolf Hess in a hairdressing magazine.
But that page turned out to be 'illuminated' with advertisements for Fromm's Act. Der Stürmer went wild against the 'Judenfirma Fromms Gummiwaren'. 'At the latest then,' says son Edgar, 'he knew with certainty that he had to leave Germany.'
Fromm sought and found buyers for his two thriving companies with nearly a thousand employees, but the Ministry of Economy turned them down.
The Nazis forced him to sell them for a fraction of their value to Baroness Elisabeth von EpensteinMauternburg, a godmother, "Aunt Lilly," of Hermann Göring, the supreme Reich Marshal—someone who eventually held 28 titles. Göring received from her two castles in exchange.
The 'compulsory contract' dates from July 21, 1938. Fromm received 116,000 marks for a company estimated at 2 million marks. Apparently Fromm was still negotiating the amount of foreign exchange he could take with him for the establishment of a new factory in London.
He and his wife also received documents to leave the country on September 30. And that in turn made the British suspicious. Was Fromm a spy?
The Fromms settled in London in October 1938 at the Hotel Esplanade, run by Austrian migrants, where Sigmund Freud had also passed in June. Especially Freud, the most fanatical condom fighter of the time. First, the Fromms rented a posh house near Regent's Park.
But for financial reasons they later had to move to a smaller house. From there, Julius Fromm planned his return. In February 1945 he wrote to his son Max in liberated Paris: 'As soon as the war is over, I will start again.'
During the war, condoms were manufactured in Berlin by forced labourers, including Fromm's relatives. A bombing raid completely wiped his chic Bauhaus factory off the map.
The other factory, in Friedrichshagen, survived and was expropriated by the GDR government after the war: it was Nazi property that had previously belonged to a Jewish capitalist exploiter. Julius Fromm did not have to experience this last coup.
A few days after the liberation celebrations, he died of a heart attack.
The British military government urgently needed a condom factory after the war. She found a rubber manufacturer in Zeven near Bremen, who discovered another production manager from one of Fromm's factories. He visited Fromm's sons in London to negotiate the use of the Fromm brand name.
But then it turned out that an Austrian heir of Göring's 'Aunt Lilly' was the owner. The Fromm brothers had to pay more than 170,000 expensive post-war marks for their own name. Only then could they conclude a licensing agreement with the company in Zeven.
At the end of 1948 the employees of Zeven were able to start. This is how the brand name Fromms Act continued to exist in Germany after the Second World War and became popular again. The company is now called MAPA and is part of the French energy group Total.
With the Fromms, the company still has 12 percent of the German market; the best-selling brand today is Billy Boy, from the same company, manufactured – to Euro 600 standard – using the same process. The 28 MAPA employees produce 80 million pieces annually in three shifts.
In the seven or eight photographs of Fromm that have survived, he always looks serious and focused. He saw diligence as the key to his success. "Ever Voran!" (Always forward!) was his motto.
After lunch, he always rested for twenty minutes in his office. When he introduced the modern condom during the First World War, he was with the right product in the right place at the right time.
Twenty years later everything was wrong. 'A gentle patriarch', his children called him after his death, stern but open-minded. "He didn't have much patience with dummies," says Ray, one of his three grandsons who are still alive today. And: 'He did have something Prussian.
If the soup was served at noon, you had to be there at noon.' Son Edgar was somewhat happy that Sontheimer wrote an article about his father in Der Spiegel.
Sontheimer did not find much material: 'A silhouette emerged from the sum of the fragments', he writes, 'ein Schattenriss, to put him back on the map.'