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"Billy Joel: A US Singer's German Roots"
Billy Joel is a quintessentially American singer. Famous for his rock ballads about love and loneliness, he grew up in the middle class-suburbs of Long Island. But few people realize that this US songwriter might have been one of the richest men in Germany - had history turned out a different way.

(April 17th, 2002)

Back in 1938, according to a recent documentary film, when Josef Neckermann took over a flourishing Nuremberg mail order business from its founder, he had little idea that his grandchildren would be blushing about it 60 years later.

Founding Father

The founder of the business was a man named Karl Joel - and he was a Jew. Thus, he was subjected to Nazi Germany's racial purity laws. So, in the year following the anti-Jewish riots in November 1938 that became known as Kristallnacht, Mr. Joel was forced to sell his mail order firm for a fraction of its market value.

Mr. Neckermann - the man who had purchased a thriving business in a distress sale - soon found prosperity in the manufacture of uniforms.

Mr. Joel also had to leave his villa in Berlin's upscale Charlottenburg section. When he asked whether the business deal would guarantee his safety, Herr Neckermann advised the successful businessman to find safety elsewhere.

Mr. Joel did survive. He fled to the United States - via Switzerland and Cuba. His son, Helmut Joel, was not as fortunate. He was a held at the Dachau death camp until it was liberated by the Allies in 1945.

As a small time salesman in New York, Karl Joel never managed to match his business success in pre-war Germany.

Back in Germany, however, Mr. Neckermann - the man who had purchased a thriving business in a distress sale - soon found prosperity in the manufacture of uniforms. Before long, the company he had purchased for almost nothing eventually grew into an enormous multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

A Typical Story

This sad story is, unfortunately, rather typical. Thousands of German Jews were forced to sell their property for nothing when they were barred from doing business by the Nuremberg laws. Those were imposed in September 1935, during the gruesome rule of the Nazis. Those Jews who managed to escape with their lives counted themselves lucky.

When Josef Neckermann took over a flourishing Nuremberg mail order business, he had little idea that his grandchildren would be blushing about it 60 years later.

Like so many others, this story, would have been consigned to obscurity - except for one thing. Helmut Joel's son, Billy, became world-famous as an American rock and roll star. And that musical twist of fate is what makes the Joel family saga interesting.

In fact, a television documentary was made called "The Joel File." It featured an interview with the Neckermann grandchildren, who are visibly uncomfortable in front of the camera over the story behind the family business.

Lessons For The Future

There is a measure of satisfaction in seeing the Neckermann grandchildren squirm - even though they were not directly at fault. There is also a message of hope.

Billy Joel's grandparents returned to Germany after the war - and they died there. They were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Nuremberg, which - after being destroyed in 1944 - has now been restored. Helmut Joel lives in Austria, where his other son, Billy's brother Alexander, is Director of the "Vienna State Opera."

And Billy Joel, although still deeply immersed in American culture and music, also returns to Germany regularly. In fact, he has played a concert on the Zeppellinfeld, the spot where the Nazis used to hold their rallies.

"Tickets To Move"
(April 18th, 2002)

Tickets go on sale at 8am Friday for "Movin' Out," the new Broadway musical conceived, choreographed, and directed by Twyla Tharp and based on the songs and music of Billy Joel.

The show will play a pre-Broadway engagement at the Shubert Theatre, 22 West, Monroe Street, from June 25th, 2002 through August 4th, 2002. The official opening is scheduled for July 19th, 2002.

On October 24th, 2002, the show is scheduled to open at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York.

Tickets, which range from $42.00 to $77.50, can be bought through Ticketmaster at (312) 902-1400, or at the Shubert Theatre box office.

Various promotions will take place at the Shubert Friday morning, with ticket buyers being offered free Joel CDs and other premiums.