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Shifting Paths

Arthur Abelmann, born in 1888 in Latvia, had a passion for finding solutions to help people feel better. He went from being a chemist apothecary in a prisoner of war camp at the end of WWI to starting his own factory in Frankfurt to make medicinal tablets, known as Chemiwerk. By 1932, the company had over 200 employees. Its best-known products were Kamillosan and various other chamomile and naturally based preparations – Spirobismol, Transpulmin, and Treupel’sche Tabletten.

His dream of creating something for his son to take over went astray with the rise of Nazism and the banning of all Jewish Products and boycott of Jewish businesses. Arthur Abelmann resigned from his position and moved his family to Switzerland on the night before what is known as Boycott Saturday, April 1 1933. The company was purchased by Degussa and IG Farben, who dominated the chemical industry in Germany at the time. Abelmann passed away in 1934, and his wife and two children immigrated to the US in 1939. Degussa was tried at the Nuremberg Trials for the manufacturing of the poison gas Zyklon B and use of slave labor.

The film documents the early rise of Nazism in Frankfurt from 1932-1934 while Arthur Abelmann was working to keep his company intact. The film presents a multi-generational family history using first person original narrative, family photographs, writings, and artifacts combined with historic archival still and video images. The use of family archival materials along with the historical material shows the contrast of a thriving cultural Jewish life in Frankfurt and the arrival of the anti-Semitic Nazi regime. The film follows the development of Arthur from a young boy born in Riga, Latvia, to serving in WWI, building his company, getting married, and starting a family. The film shows his two loves, work and family, and how he worked to keep both safe and secure their future.

The film also uses the reflections of his son Walter who as a young boy watched his father do everything he could to survive and care for the family. We see the life of Arthur’s widow making the choice to leave Europe with her son, daughter, and elderly mother to start a new life in New York in 1939, and their early years of being in New York starting fresh while seeing the horrific headlines from their old home and the plight of those less fortunate. Throughout the years, the products of Arthur’s company survived, and between marketing and demand we see how one product, the healing ointment Kamillosan, endures over 100 years later.

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Associated Members

Charles Abelmann, Director


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture