How Julius Fromm’s Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis


JULIUS FROMM WAS BORN Israel Fromm on 4 March 1883 in Konin, what was then a small town in the Russian Empire and now part of Poland. Like many Jewish families in the region, the Fromms moved in 1893 to a rapidly expanding Berlin in search of a safer life and better opportunities for the children. They were culturally assimilated, and Israel Fromm adopted the name Julius. The Fromms made a living rolling cigarettes during the day, and selling them one by one in cafés at night. This was a line of work which lent itself to impoverished immigrants in Germany who often had little more than manual dexterity. The patriarch Bernhard Fromm died in 1898 at the age of forty-two and Regina died in 1911, leaving Julius and his elder brother Salomon the responsibility of raising the entire family. Julius Fromm, a “quintessential ‘entrepreneurial proletariat’”, and a modest man with minimal education, sought a career alternative to making cigarettes and began taking evening classes in rubber chemistry around 1912. Julius Fromm then hit upon the idea of making condoms. The early condoms from the eighteenth century were generally made of animal intestines, and were used primarily by wealthy men – like Giacomo Casanova, who referred to them as “English riding coats” – to protect against the incurable syphilis. These condoms were difficult to use, diminished pleasure, frequently broke, and offered only limited protection against venereal diseases.

more from Leon Rocha at the Berlin Review of Books here.