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L’Oreal Took My Home

In his introduction to this book, the famous Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld sets the scene for Monica Waitzfelder’s true story of her family’s suffering during and after World War Two. Monica’s grandparents were affluent German Jews, living in some style in a large house in the industrial city of Karlsruhe. In 1937, as the Nazis intensified their persecution, the family abandoned their home and fled to France. Monica’s grandparents were captured and both perished in concentration camps. Monica’s mother, Edith, evaded detention and eventually settled in Brazil. After the war, the house in Karlsruhe was bought – in a deal of questionable legality – by the transnational cosmetics company, L’Oreal, which subsequently used it as their German head office.

Throughout Monica’s childhood in Brazil, her mother repeatedly told her, ‘L’Oreal took my home’. When she returned to Europe as an adult, Monica decided to investigate. For years her inquiries were ignored by L’Oreal and even when she eventually unearthed paperwork irrefutably proving her family’s ownership of the property, the company replied with obfuscation and legalese.

Unfortunately, Monica is so convinced of her case, she writes in a shrill, hectoring tone throughout and makes little attempt to engage the reader. The book is verbose and repetitive – it would have made far more impact as a short, punchy article. It also lacks any sort of conclusion; Monica is pursuing the case in the European Court of Human Rights, but we are not told of the outcome of this action. *L’Oreal took My Home* is an intriguing story, spoiled by botched presentation.

New Internationalist issue 400 magazine cover This article is from the May 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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