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One of the stalwarts of German independent film distribution, Juergen Wohlrabe, died Oct. 19 in his sleep. The director/owner of JugendFilm, who had been battling a brain tumor since last year, was 59.

Wohlrabe was the third-generation family member to run JugendFilm, the company his grandfather Willy started after being run out of local government by the Nazis 61 years ago. It remains the oldest German distribution company.

Though suffering from the debilitating physical effects of chemotherapy, Wohlrabe, who had been managing director and principal shareholder since 1978, retained his mental sharpness and worked full days through Oct. 13. The following week he was transferred to Schlosspark Klinik in Berlin, where he died painlessly the evening of Oct. 19.

Earlier this year, Wohlrabe appointed Bernd Tietze, a former Bertelsmann video executive, to be co-managing director and Tietze will continue as chief executive of the company. Ownership of JugendFilm remains with the family, which includes widow Irmgard Wohlrabe, daughter Judith, 21, and son Marc, 23.

Marc Wohlrabe, who has been spotted at film markets over the last year, is now expected to enter JugendFilm management with a mix of responsibilities.

Juergen Wohlrabe had a reputation as a colorful and brash figure, who invested his life-blood in the film business. He held positions in the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since his days as a law student at Berlin’s Free University and was elected a delegate to the Bundestag in 1969.

Jugend Film literally means “Youth Film” and a fifth of its 250-hour library is devoted to children’s classics.