Edith H. Bergmann, a German army radio operator during World War II who eventually became a wholesaler of violins in Baltimore, died of kidney failure Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Towson resident was 74.
Born in Wurzburg, Germany, Ms. Bergmann received her higher education in Munich, where she became fluent in French and English. During World War II, she volunteered in the women's army corps as a radio operator in Berlin. She fled that city in advance of the Russian army but was captured by American troops near the Alps in 1945.
Repatriated, Ms. Bergmann put her radio skills and fluent English to work handling ground-to-air communications for Pan American World Airways' first postwar flights into Munich. She immigrated to the United States about 1950 and worked as an au pair in New York before moving to Baltimore, where she worked for a lawyer.
"We hired her about 1961," said Herbert S. Garten, a Baltimore lawyer, "and before long she was secretary and office manager. Never have our files been in better shape."
In the mid-1970s, Ms. Bergmann developed an ulcer and returned to Germany to recuperate. It was then that she became involved in the violin business.
Mr. Garten said his client had purchased the International Violin Co., which moved to Belvedere Avenue and Reisterstown Road in the mid-1970s. When the client died, Mr. Garten became the trustee, " and suddenly I've got a violin business to run," he said.
"We were getting violin parts from Germany, and I didn't want the suppliers to stop working with us," Mr. Garten said. "So I called Edith and told her she had to go to Wurzburg and convince them to continue to send merchandise. 'You're in luck,' she says. 'That's my hometown.' "
After Ms. Bergmann returned from Germany, Mr. Garten said, "We arranged it so she could buy the business, although she said she knew little about violins. But she learned rapidly, and she ran the business successfully for 16 years until she sold it and retired in 1994. It's still a successful business."
Ms. Bergmann's sister, Gisela Dorsey of Columbia, said her sister purchased the finest materials from around the world for her stringed instruments. Most of the wood, she said, came from Germany.
Owned by Lori Kirr, the 65-year-old International Violin Co. Ltd. -- a wholesaler of stringed musical instruments and accessories -- moved near Falls Road in Baltimore County two years ago.
"Edith Bergmann was an exceptional woman who proved that a successful businessperson doesn't have to know all about a product to succeed in selling it," Mr. Garten said.
Services were held Thursday at Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery in Columbia.
Ms. Bergmann is survived by another sister, Anneliese Porten of Donauworth, Germany; and two brothers, Eduard Bergmann and Eugen Bergmann, both of Munich.
Pub Date: 12/19/98