The Bronner Haus & Dr. Bronner’s Museum Opens in Laupheim, Germany with a Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land

My reflections on the Grand Opening of our Newly Renovated Jewish Ancestral Home Against the Backdrop of Palestinian Homes and Lives Being Destroyed in Gaza and the West Bank.

By David Bronner

I recently returned from a trip to Germany with other family leadership of Dr. Bronner’s as well as members of our extended family from around the U.S. and Israel. We shared the most deep in the heart time filled with love and connection in the Jewish quarter of Laupheim, Germany, celebrating the grand opening of our newly restored ancestral home, The Bronner Haus & Dr. Bronner’s Museum. Over the last two years, the house has undergone extensive renovations and will now serve as a residential home for adults with special needs as well as a museum about Dr. Bronner’s and our German Jewish soapmaking family history. The home will also provide the official address on our soap labels for Dr. Bronner’s business operations in Europe 

Michael Bronner, my brother and company President, began to develop a vision for the future of the building when he visited Laupheim for a speaking event in 2017. In a chance encounter at the event, he met the owner of the home, who was so moved upon hearing about the history of the home that she offered to sell it back to the family. We bought the building that year. Following this, so many awesome people came together to make true magic happen, dedicating their genius and talent to turn our ancestral home into a monument to peace, love, and understanding prevailing over war, hate, and ignorance. 

bronner haus
Bronner Family and friends visiting the newly renovated Bronner Haus and Dr. Bronner’s Museum, Laupheim, Germany, May 27, 2024. Credit: Photo by Armin Buhl, courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s.

Managing Director of Dr. Bronner’s Europe, Anke Buhl managed the project with so much love and dedication. We are profoundly grateful for her work and stewardship to bring this building back to life. The house was originally built in the 1800s and was in need of a full restoration to be habitable. The architects we worked with at Teamwerk Architekten did an incredible job designing the new building plans. The renovation process began in 2022 and involved adding living space and raising the ceilings. A beautifully designed glass façade with framing that replicates the shape of soap bubbles was also added to the building. The glass façade has been imprinted with key messages representative of Dr. Bronner’s vision and company mission, incorporating my grandfather’s message of unity. An “All-One!” sign on the side of the building lights up at night for special occasions and helps make the house a focal point to honor the history and resilience of the building and the neighborhood.  

The basement of the house is known to be where my family’s soapmaking legacy began in 1858, so we wanted to make this space a museum dedicated to our history. The Dr. Bronner’s museum is a permanent exhibit created by us in collaboration with the design firm Lahaye-Tiedemann that is now open to the public in Laupheim. On the walls in the first of two rooms, a series of collage panels powerfully summarize each generation of our soapmaking family and tell the story of where we are today. In the second of two rooms, an oversized Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle in the middle of the room controls a collection of video screens on the main wall of the room that display six short videos based on interviews with me, my mom, my brother and sister, and our VP of Special Operations Gero Leson, were cut together with archival footage that dives deeper into our family history, my grandfather Emanuel Bronner’s life and mission, our company, and what we’re up to currently. 

bronner haus

bronner haus

Click here to view complete museum photos

To put the museum and the significance of restoring our family home in context, it’s important to share some of our family history. For a deeper dive, my sister has also chronicled our story in great detail on her own blog. To summarize, after centuries of systematic pogroms and massacres, Jewish people in Europe began to unevenly earn their civil rights in the 1800s and with the rise of Enlightenment values were able to join trade guilds. My great great grandfather Emanuel Heilbronner, married to my great great grandmother Louise Heilbronner, first began manufacturing our family soap in the basement of their house in 1858. Three of their sons, including Berthold—my great grandfather and father of our company founder Emanuel Bronner—expanded the family enterprise by building a much bigger soap factory in Heilbronn, a large manufacturing center an hour away from Laupheim, also in southern Germany. Our factory supplied many of the public washrooms throughout Germany with soap, and our family identified as Germans of Jewish faith. 

My grandfather (Emil Heilbronner who became Emanuel Bronner / Dr. Bronner in America) came to the U.S. in 1929 at the age of 21, not so much because of Hitler and the Nazis, who were not yet in power, but because he and his dad constantly clashed, and he wanted to forge his own path in life. His youngest sister, my great aunt Lotte, fled in 1936 at the age of sixteen from Nazi Germany to the Ein Gev kibbutz in then Palestine and now Israel. My great aunt Luise fled to the U.S. in 1938, but their parents stayed until it was too late and were murdered in the Holocaust: Berthold in Theresienstadt in 1942, Franziska in Auschwitz in 1944. With my wife, kid, and friends, I visited Auschwitz in January of last year, a trip I chronicled here, where I explore more details of our family history and of Jewish people in Europe generally. 

Click here to view all six museum videos

My family’s tragic fate was the dark inspiration for my grandfather’s passion to unify humanity across religious and ethnic divides, highlighting on every bottle of soap that we are all children of the same divine source however we may pray or worship; and if we don’t unite, we will destroy ourselves in a nuclear armed world.  

We’ve visited our ancestral home in Laupheim and factory in Heilbronn several times before. Laupheim has a great museum dedicated to its Jewish history. The city and historians have done a good job grappling with their dark and tragic history. We’re grateful to have formed a close relationship with Michael Schick, a real renaissance man who is a part-time detective, motorcycle restorer, baker, and custodian of the Jewish cemetery in town. It was Michael’s idea for us to partner with the Catholic charity St. Elisabeth-Stiftung that runs assisted-living homes and workshops for adults with special needs throughout southern Germany.  

bronner haus
Interior of the Bronner Haus and Dr. Bronner’s Museum, Laupheim Germany, April 2024. Credit: Photo by Conné van d‘Grachten, courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s.

At the opening events, a journalist pointed out to me that handicapped adults were systematically murdered 50 km away by the Nazis, sharing a similar fate of persecution and suffering as our Jewish family members. Residents of the home joined us in cutting the ribbon during our official opening ceremonies, and could not be more beautiful or kinder. They were so excited to join us in celebrating the occasion with our family.  

My mom, sister and brother and all the other fifth generation Bronners attended, including our cousins Judy, Mark, and Eric, as well as cousins from Israel: Binya, Shani and Netta, and their brother Yoav, a glass blowing artist currently living in Berlin with his wife Nan and daughter Ada. My wife Mia and awesome 27-year-old kid Maya Lin-Bronner also made the trip. Gero Leson, Dr. Bronner’s German-born VP of Special Operations, joined us, along with European members of our all-star team that sets up and manages our fair trade and regenerative organic farming projects around the world. Gero is also the author of Honor thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain. He was instrumental in connecting us with our German Jewish soapmaking history almost twenty years ago and has helped us make many connections and discoveries along the way. Dr. Bronner’s Director of Social Action Adam Eidinger, joined us along with Ariel Vegosen and two of our PR team members, Ryan Fletcher (Director) and Lilia Letsch (Program Manager) who organized the week of events alongside Anke Buhl. The Mayor of Laupheim Ingo Bergman and the local marching band also joined for the occasion. It was quite the affair in town, and we felt sincerely welcomed by the city who have embraced our story as part of theirs.  

bronner haus

We held two events where my sister, brother, and I presented to packed audiences about our family and company, and what brought us to the current moment. It didn’t escape me or my family that Israel’s brutal invasion of Rafah was happening at the same time in Gaza. My kid Mayamadewatermelonpatches forus to express our solidarity with Palestine.When Israel banned the Palestinian flag in the occupied territories in 1967,the sliced watermelon—with its red, green, white and black colors—became a symbol for Palestinian liberation. Coincidentally, the colors of the local Laupheim flag are the same as Palestine’s.  

In our presentation at the events, we shared that since 2007 we have sourced 90% of our olive oil from Palestinian farmers in Palestine’s West Bank, and the balance from the Israeli side, half from a Jewish family farm and half from Sindyanna, an impressive project working with Christian Palestinian farmers in the Nazareth region. Thus, we have Muslim, Jewish and Christian olive oil mixed in our soaps, resonating to our granddad’s All-One mission in life, and a vision of future peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land—and we made a powerful short video with our partners there.   

I also noted that in the first half of last century, Germany and the European peninsula were engulfed in so much bloodshed and hate but look at the situation here now: the fascist government long defeated and peace and understanding has prevailed across the land (although the uptick in xenophobic and racist parties and views in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, as well as the U.S., is deeply concerning). Still, my point is that Europe is at peace, with the war and strife that my ancestors experienced far in the rearview mirror—an outcome that could scarcely be imagined 85 years ago; and likewise, hopefully soon, we will see the emergence of a viable Palestinian state out of the horrible conflagration of the current moment, and peace, justice, and security prevail throughout the Holy Land. I believe this is possible however bleak things look now, and my family’s experience is testament to this potential.  

It struck me how our Jewish ancestors were forced to leave their homes, and then tragically in turn at the time Israel was founded in 1948, around 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes by Jewish military groups and otherwise in the first Arab-Israeli war. Many of them resettled in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, where their descendants still live—this is called the Nakba (the Catastrophe) by Palestinians, commemorated on May 15th, the day after Israel’s founding. Subsequently, Jewish populations migrated, fled or were expelled from Muslim-majority countries throughout Africa and Asia, and Israel has fought numerous wars with hostile neighbors seeking its destruction from its founding—currently Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But this does not justify Israel’s organized expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in the first place, or ongoing annexation of Palestinian land in the second, in pursuit of the extremist vision of Greater Israel.  

I contemplated the terrible circumstance and choices that my great aunt Lotte faced in 1936 in Nazi Germany when she fled to Palestine at the age of sixteen. Where was she going to go? The U.S. maybe, but that was a crapshoot if fascist forces there were going to take over like they had in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere; Father Coughlin’s radio show out of Detroit had an audience of 30 million, the largest in U.S. history, one-quarter of the population, and was vehemently antisemitic and sympathetic to the Nazi regime. The Ku Klux Klan counted millions of members across the US a decade earlier. For centuries, Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East had endured a precarious existence, one that made them vulnerable to spasms of antisemitism in the form of expulsion and pogroms. So I understand my ancestors’ need and desire to establish a safe country for Jewish people to live on ancestral lands shared with Palestinians.  

However, that should have been configured in a way that did not displace any of the native Palestinian population in the first place, and none of the above excuses how Israel has treated Palestinians, from its founding and forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, to the current all-out war on Gaza, all the while relentlessly seizing Palestinian land and thwarting Palestinian aspirations for their own state.  

Earlier last month, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Rady Shell in San Diego with a live orchestra. On the one hand, it’s Spielberg’s classic film and a fun revenge fantasy on the Nazis. On the other hand, it perfectly illustrates how Arab people are just a backdrop and tool to the interests of colonial powers, with Indiana Jones’ character stealing artifacts around the world to put into museums in the West. I was reflecting how not a problem and invisible this all was to me personally, as a small example of the general gap writ large in the Israeli psyche and narrative of triumphant rebirth in the Promised Land, that completely ignores what a catastrophe this was and is for the Palestinian people. Somewhat similar to how we in the U.S. have historically not acknowledged, grappled with, or atoned for the catastrophic annihilation of Native American tribes and cultures with our own nation’s founding and subsequent “Manifest Destiny.”   

When Dr. Bronner’s shared our statement in support of a Ceasefire in Gaza earlier this year with our staff, I shared how much I admire and love our Tante Lotte, who helped create a safe homeland for Jewish people around the world who were facing so much violence and hate. She was proud to subsequently live in Haifa that was relatively more integrated than the rest of Israeli society; but I also remember how she would say things like “What were the Arabs doing with this land before we got here? We made the desert bloom!”  

This was and is a collective trope in Israel, and I was lamenting how off this was on different levels, denying the legitimacy and love Palestinians have for their land, their identity as Palestinians, and deflecting and rationalizing the trauma they suffered with the founding of Israel. I can testify that Palestinian farming culture is incredibly productive and vibrant, even under the humiliating difficulties of Israeli occupation. To me, the idea that Palestinians are “Arabs” who can go live in some other Arabic state, is like saying Italians are Europeans and can go live in Spain where the language is more or less the same, denying their love for and deep ties to their specific ancestral land and cities that they will live and die for. Both Israelis and Palestinians feel the same deep love for shared ancestral lands. I hope out of the massive tragedy of recent events, a viable Palestinian state will emerge that can coexist peacefully with Israel, however remote that may seem now. 

While it was synchronous and unintentional that Canaan Fair Trade, the only fair trade supplier globally of olive oil circa 2007, is located in Palestine’s West Bank, on reflection it’s been an amazing opportunity to engage with our family history, trauma, and perhaps even karma. It’s been a profound, often depressing, yet also heartening journey to the current day. I am grateful to have so many amazing friends and family on both sides now. Lotte’s grandkids who joined us from Israel, are all progressive and left leaning and not at all down with Israel’s right-wing government policy or prosecution of the war in Gaza.   

Since the recent war on Gaza began, our team at Dr. Bronner’s has been deeply engaged in supporting peacemaking and relief efforts in the region. As part of this approach we sponsored two events last month produced and hosted by the joint Israeli-Palestinian orgs Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle: one, a joint Memorial Day event, a large, well established “alternative” memorial day event in Israel they have been doing for eighteen years; and two, a joint Nakba remembrance event, that Combatants for Peace hosts in Palestine’s West Bank.  

I see now how linked the Palestinian trauma of the Nakba is to the Jewish trauma of the Holocaust, as a continuum, and one doesn’t justify the other. And there is pervasive denial of the Palestinian Nakba trauma by Israelis on the one hand, and the Israeli Holocaust trauma by Palestinians on the other. While I hear a lot about the Holocaust denial prevalent on the Palestinian side, I don’t hear about the denial and rationalizing of the Nakba on the Israeli side, which most Americans have never heard of either. Rather than perpetuate mutually exclusive narratives, I believe both experiences need to be deeply felt and understood together, as part of forging peaceful coexistence and understanding in the shared ancestral Holy Land of these two great peoples. In this spirit, Dr. Bronner’s is a supporter of the joint Palestinian-Israeli organization A Land for All’s vision of “two states, one homeland.”  

I’m on the board of MAPS (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) in the U.S., and we’re supporting MAPS Israel which has been given government permission to treat survivors of the October 7, 2023 Hamas attacks—including residents of kibbutzim that border Gaza and attendees of the Nova music festival—with group MDMA therapy, to help them heal from the debilitating trauma and suffering they are experiencing. I hope and pray that this will include all remaining hostages soon in the context of a permanent ceasefire. In the future, as they train more Palestinian therapists, MAPS Israel hopes to support similar work in the Palestinian Territories. 

Relevant also is our statement in support of a permanent ceasefire, following up our blog post earlier last year condemning Israel’s ongoing annexation of Palestine’s West Bank, and the impact of its apartheid system on Palestinian people there. My brother and I, on behalf of Dr. Bronner’s, issued our statement in support of ceasefire after Nasser Abufarha, the founder and CEO of our Palestinian fair trade olive oil partner Canaan Fair Trade, presented to Dr. Bronner’s staff about the religiously motivated settler movement terrorizing Palestinian communities and killing Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, with a government captive to their agenda who is in favor of the Jewish supremacist vision of Greater Israel, including “Judea and Samaria.” This Jewish supremacist reality that seeks to annex Palestinian land and deny them their homeland, regularly results in settler terrorism and violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, with the tacit support of Israel’s police and military. This is a key dynamic feeding the ongoing cycles of violence that are occurring, and is the dark mirror of Hamas. I sincerely hope and pray that Jewish supremacist forces will not derail the current phased proposal for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, that can end the brutal attacks and return all remaining hostages.  

The New York Times Magazine recently published an extensive exposé documenting how Jewish supremacists gained control of Israel’s government and policy, that I encourage others to read. The article by Ronen Berman and Mark Mazzetti begins: 

“This story is told in three parts. The first documents the unequal system of justice that grew around Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. The second shows how extremists targeted not only Palestinians but also Israeli officials trying to make peace. The third explores how this movement gained control of the state itself. Taken together, they tell the story of how a radical ideology moved from the fringes to the heart of Israeli political power.” 

What’s notable is that the primary sources for these articles are high level intelligence officials in Israel who are deeply concerned by this takeover, and view it as one of the greatest threats to Israel’s legitimacy as a democracy.  

“For decades, most Israelis have considered Palestinian terrorism the country’s biggest security concern. But there is another threat that may be even more destabilizing for Israel’s future as a democracy: Jewish terrorism and violence, and the failure to enforce the law against it.” 

However bleak the situation looks now in the context of Israel’s ongoing assault and the urgent and immediate need for a ceasefire in Gaza, I am grateful that the Palestinian cause has garnered so much grassroots support in the U.S. I am also heartened that mainstream reporting now increasingly recognizes the responsibility that Israel bears for the hate and terrorism that settlers are inflicting daily on Palestinians in the West Bank, as they seek to annex more and more land to Israel. With building international pressure, alongside a hopeful reawakening of last year’s massive protest movement in Israel, I hope and pray Israel will soon agree to stop the assault on Gaza, get rid of its extremist government, reverse their ongoing settlement and annexation of Palestinian land, and engage in good faith negotiations for a two-state solution.  

There’s a huge shift happening globally, and however long it may take, it’s a matter of time for the State of Palestine to rise and fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and be fully recognized by the global community, living in peaceful and secure coexistence with Israel inside its 1967 borders, with negotiated land swaps in good faith. Eventually, I hope that Palestinian families who lost their homes during the Nakba or have been evicted by Israeli government policy or settlers since, will one day experience the kind of recognition, reparation and closure that my family has experienced with our ancestral home in Germany. [i]


[i] Just as Germany recognized and gave financial reparations to descendants of Holocaust victims forced to leave their homes (and vanishingly few have reclaimed their homes in the way we have been able to), Palestinian families deserve recognition and reparations as part of a good faith peace deal between Israel and Palestine that addresses the Palestinian refugee “right of return,” and that’s regardless if Arab states who expelled their Jewish populations ever do the same. Two wrongs don’t make a right and we’re all responsible for our own shameful histories (and the US has not yet remotely or adequately addressed via reparations or otherwise our own shameful history decimating Native American cultures and enslaving African Americans).   

In May of 2018, we visited Nasser and some of our Palestinian farmers during Nakba Day, Trump had recently moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Jewish settlement expansion accelerated and encircled Palestine’s East Jerusalem and further infiltrated the West Bank generally. These unilateral moves were intended to further erode Palestine’s ability to emerge as a viable independent state, and further cement the Jewish supremacist vision of Greater Israel. Largely peaceful non-violent protests erupted in Gaza driven by refugees demanding their right of return, an end to the blockade of Gaza, as well as the US embassy move.  Almost three hundred protestors were gunned down by the Israeli army at the Gaza border over the course of the protests, peaking on Nakba. Even against this searingly painful backdrop, our farming partners hosted us with so much grace and pride, excited to show us their regenerative organic farming practices in their olive groves. 

Right after, we joined Israeli friends at the Flying Camel peace camp at Midburn, the Burning Man regional festival in Israel. The camp had built out of palm wicker a 30-foot-tall winged Pegasus camel launching into flight, based on the apocryphal saying that there will be peace in the Middle East when camels fly. At the end it was burned, and was like a sacrificial offering and powerful prayer for peace to God. May flying camels on all sides continue to build alliances and bridges of solidarity and understanding, end the current horrendous assault on Gaza, address the root causes of the conflict in a just and equitable way, and forge a lasting peace between these two great, independent and forever linked nations and peoples.  


Author Profile

David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

See all stories by David Bronner