I've Come to Reclaim
My Family's Building:
Nazi Victims' Tales of Victory and Betrayal in Modern Germany
In September, a groundbreaking restitution case made its way through Germany's Federal Administrative Court. In brief, Friedrich Solms-Baruth, grandson of a conspirator in Operation Valkyrie, the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, sought the return of assets stolen by the Nazis in the wake of the plot's miscarriage. His grandfather had been arrested and held for nine months as the personal prisoner of Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, subject to relentless torture until he signed over his ownership rights to all his enterprises, properties and land to the architect of the Holocaust.

Kit Klarenberg
Prince Friedrich's action was just the latest development in a generational struggle to compel authorities to adhere to laws established in the 1950s, which in theory mean property or enterprises expropriated by the National Socialists must be returned to their rightful owners - or, if confiscated assets have been damaged or destroyed, claimants receive reparation payments.

German reunification in 1990 led to a wave of claims from individuals whose properties had spent the previous 45 years enmeshed in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), among them Friedrich's father.

However, he would spend the last 16 years of his life unsuccessfully battling unfathomable official stonewalling on the issue. Undiscouraged, his son took up the fight – authorities' intransigence persisted, so in 2014 he was forced to lodge a legal case at the German constitutional court to reclaim his grandfather's land and property.

In the event, despite possessing substantial documentation supporting the notion his grandfather's signature had been acquired by brutal coercion – including a contemporary British intelligence report confirming his grandfather's arrest and the subsequent confiscation of his properties resulted from the plot to kill Hitler - and the testimony of both renowned Second World War historian Antony Beevor, and a specialist from Munich's Institute of Contemporary History, the action was unsuccessful. At a pretrial hearing, the presiding judge ruled the accumulated evidence and expert witnesses' words as inadmissible, and it was for the court to adjudicate on the historical circumstances of the case.
Armed with a wealth of new evidence, Friedrich had high hopes for success this time round – but on 2nd October, the Federal Administrative Court ruled against him, stating Friedrich had received a "fair hearing" in 2014, with judges taking into account the full facts and historical evidence. Moreover, the Court claimed to have been unable to make use of the new evidence provided by Solms-Baruth and his legal team, and didn't solicit the testimony of any of their experts.It's very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better
To say the least, it's supremely puzzling authorities seem so stubbornly opposed to upholding long-established, fundamental legal principles - in search of answers, since the article was published I've contacted a number of state organs and ministries, to little result. I've been met with at-best polite dismissal, at-worst outright obstruction or even silence.

The refusal of spokespeople to comment on the specifics of Friedrich's case is somewhat understandable, given it's an ongoing legal action – what's less comprehensible is their seeming resistance to discussing past claims, both successful and unsuccessful, and the wider issue of restitution, especially given the modern German state makes much of its commitment to undoing historical wrongs.

In any event, I continued my research into the question without the German state's assistance – in the process, I came across an extraordinary tale of one family's successful quest for reparative justice, with enormous relevance to the Solms-Baruth saga.
Prince Friedrich & Friends
No Old Wives' Tale
As a young girl, Dina Gold was frequently regaled with stories of life in prewar Germany by her grandmother, Nellie Wolff. On top of mesmerising sketches of Weimar-era decadence, Nellie told her their family had been extremely affluent, the source of which was a fur company established by Dina's great-great-grandfather, Heimann Wolff, in 1850.

What's more, Nellie assured Dina they'd be rich once more in future, as the headquarters of the family enterprise, a grand building in the centre of Berlin, had been owned by the Wolffs before they fled the country in the 1930s. While it was then-barricaded in the German Democratic Republic, Nellie insisted when the Berlin Wall finally fell, it would be theirs again.

Dina's mother, Aviva, dismissed Nellie's tales as fantasies and fables, the product of wistful longing for a fantastical, idealised past – and when Nellie died in 1977, she left no photographs of the property, let alone any paperwork relating to its ownership. Even its location was a mystery.

However, imaginings of the building Nellie oft-reminisced about never left Dina, and when the barrier separating East and West Berlin fell at last in 1989, she set about attempting to track it down. While her father told her to "forget it" because "you can't fight the German government", she was undeterred, and more than made up for in determination what she lacked in documentation.

In 1990, she visited Israel with her husband Simon, while he served a two-month fellowship at Tel Aviv University. While there, she became acquainted with her cousin Leor Wolff for the first time, and told him of her quest - it just so happened he had a suitcase full of old photos and papers he'd inherited from their forebears. Together they scoured the contents for clues as to where the building might be, and finally came across a singed letterhead dating to 1920 identifying their great-great-grandfather Heimann as trading from Krausenstrasse 17/18 in Berlin.

The enormous property, which served as the headquarters of Deutsche Reichsbahn, the by-then-former GDR's state-owned railway, was a mere five-minute stroll from Checkpoint Charlie, the key crossing point between Berlin's eastern and western segments throughout the Cold War.

So it was Dina visited Krausenstrasse on a bitingly chilly day in early December that year - "I've come to claim my family's building!" she declared.
Miraculously, the building manager didn't dismiss her or her story out of hand – he instead rang head office in Bonn, who in turn told him they'd in fact been half-expecting such a visit ever since Die Wende erupted a year prior. Higher ups were aware the building was once owned by Jews, but had no idea if any members of the family had survived World War II.
They sat down together, and Dina and told him what she knew. The Wolff family – her grandfather Herbert, his wife Nellie and three children, Aviva, Heini and Marion - had been affluent and integrated Jews who considered themselves German. Hitler's ruthless rise to power would of course change all that, and by 1933 Aviva, who didn't even attend a synagogue, found herself viciously ostracised and bullied by her school peers for being Jewish. That same year, Dina's granduncle Fritz, a committed Communist, was arrested on trumped-up charges and sent to Spandau prison.

While he was released after a few months, by that time Herbert well-understood Germany was no longer a 'safe space' for Jews, and the Wolffs duly uprooted to Palestine. Fritz refused to come with them - the next year, he was given power of attorney over his brother's affairs, although ever-increasingly vicious anti-Semitic sentiment and legislation aimed at the 'Aryanisation' of the country, which meant Jewish-owned property could be forcibly transferred to German hands for a fraction of its true value, soon mandated the sale of Krausenstasse. It became property of the Reich in 1937, for which the Wolffs received a pittance.

Things would go from bad to the immeasurably worse for Fritz in short order - the next year he was interred in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1943, the tide of war turning irrevocably against the Nazis, he was 'evacuated' to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.

The building manager was supportive of Dina, offering much encouragement and reassuring her familial ownership of the building could be proven, against all apparent odds - "the documents exist, you have to find them, but they exist," he promised.

Emboldened, she contacted a law firm to discuss the case – while her family remained disbelieving about their prospects, the legal team was clearly more convinced, and lodged a formal statement of claim.
It would take over five years for the case to be resolved. Along the way, authorities compelled Dina to locate and provide a vast amount of documentation supporting her claim, including Fritz's death certificate, despite him having died at Auschwitz, and the likelihood of this having been officially recorded in any form seeming extremely slim. "We thought that reeked of repellent officialdom," Dina has said.
A Wing of the Solms-Baruth Ancestral Home
Same Old Story
She describes the process as an "emotional rollercoaster", during which she and her husband were forced to juggle raising their children with extensively researching the case. Nonetheless, after two-and-a-half years, the sympathetic building manager was ultimately proven right, and her dogged efforts unearthed sufficient paperwork to prove her mother and three siblings were the rightful heirs to Krausenstasse – although the process still "dragged on" subsequently.
"I suspect people were waiting for my mother to die and perhaps for her claim to die too," Dina has speculated. The rollercoaster would finally reach its end in 1996 - Dina's family received £8 million from the Federal Finance Ministry, around 19 million euros in today's money, although her journey wasn't quite over.
Years later, she decided to write a book about her experiences. Over the course of researching the work, her husband visited the UK National Archives and found a booklet, 'Who's Who in Nazi Germany', produced in 1944 by the British War Office. One of the individuals listed in the file was Kurt Hamann, wartime chief executive of Victoria Insurance, which on top of having facilitated Nazi expropriation of Jewish-owned properties – including the Krausenstasse stolen wrested from Dina's family - was one of the firms that provided insurance for the Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Stutthof concentration camps.

Dina duly conducted an internet search on Hamann, and found the University of Mannheim had named a foundation for the promotion of work on insurance-related topics after him. She informed the University, which commissioned an academic study into Hamann's background - when the results were available, it decided to revoke his honorary senatorial status and rename the foundation.

Bizarrely though, an official statement on the amendment issued December 2018 was supremely light on detail - in fact, it stated Hamann, who sat on the honorary committee of the House of German Art in Munich, which glorified Adolf Hitler's artistic preferences, and an Academy of German Law working committee aiming to frame insurance legislation in Nazi terms, was "not evidently anti-Semitic".
The name change is just a single example among a great many of an independent individual compelling an apparently reluctant German state, and its assorted institutions, to face up to the reality of the past, and right historical wrongs.

Such struggles date back to the very founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in September 1949. In the 1950s and 60s, lawyer Fritz Bauer played a pivotal role in obtaining justice and compensation for victims of the Nazis, in the face of official condemnation and obstinacy.

Bauer's efforts are close to Friedrich's heart, for the crusading prosecutor proved fundamental in changing German attitudes towards the 'Operation Valkyrie' plotters – among them, of course, his great-grandfather.

In 1952, Bauer prosecuted former Wehrmacht General Major Otto Ernst Remer for defamation, after Remer accused Claus von Stauffenberg and his collaborators in the 20th July plot of being "state traitors". The court agreed with Bauer's contention the National Socialist regime didn't obey the rule of law, and thus those who'd resisted it were morally exonerated.
"This was the essential breakthrough for the realisation in Germany the active resistance of the conspirators of the 20th July was justified, because it was directed against a lawless state. At the time, a majority of Germans were of the opinion the men and women of the 20th July were traitors and the plot was not an attempt to return to the rule of law," Prince Friedrich says.
The Solms-Baruth heir also sees a great many parallels between his case and Dina's – although her victory merely raises further questions about why authorities are seemingly so hostile to upholding their legal obligations in his respect. Like Dina, Friedrich possesses an extensive wealth of documentation supporting his claim, and is very much willing and able to provide it – there should be no need for a legal action at all.
"The courts simply need to adhere to existing laws to which they are constitutionally bound. It's common cause in the proceedings my family's loss resulted from Nazi persecution, so there's no way around this without going against the constitution, which is a practically perfect document. It can be strengthened, but not changed – although human beings have the power to manipulate its interpretation. If officials and judges are prepared to throw everything overboard constitutionally for a single case, they will certainly do so again when it's in the fiscal interests of the government to do so," he cautions.
A Portrait of Prince Friedrich's Great Grandfather
Moreover, the state's heel-dragging in this case takes on a potentially sinister dimension when one considers key evidence supporting Friedrich's claim gives every appearance of having been consciously suppressed by state apparatchiks for a great many years. Friedrich's investigative team recently uncovered an 'oberfinanzprasident' (OFP) file, which shows the description of his grandfather's enterprises was legally changed to 'state property' by Nazi finance authorities. It was collecting dust in the archives of the very governmental body responsible for his case – shockingly, in 2017 a representative of the Federal Restitution Archive stated categorically in court that despite extensive research, no files relevant to the Solms-Baruth case had been unearthed.

They restated their position in June 2018, when Friedrich's legal team requested to view audit files related to his grandfather's estate, claiming files dating to February 1945 showed the properties Friedrich alleged had been expropriated by the Nazis remained in the name of his grandfather, and were thus still owned by him.

While they argued this effectively torpedoed allegations of expropriation, when Friedrich's lawyers were allowed to access the documents themselves they quickly found the OFP document – "this proves the file was deliberately withheld, or falsely entered into the court record," Friedrich contends.

The conscious concealment of such a vital document should be a nationwide scandal, for it surely has implications for potentially millions of people within and without Germany – but for reasons unclear, the German press has been eerily silent.

Friedrich will now file with the German Constitutional Court – if that effort fails, Lord Goldsmith, former Attorney-General of England and Wales, will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. In the mean time, Friedrich's investigations remain ongoing, as do mine – and while my digging is yet to offer much in the way of concrete answers to the many burning questions his case raises, I'm beginning to have suspicions of my own about why the officials involved have obstructed and continue to obstruct his effort at every turn. In my next report, I'll outline some of my key findings so far.
"The government is relaxed about turning against individuals if doesn't fear the national press will report such matters, for it believes it can escape critical publicity, the majority of the electorate either uninterested or unaware of the subject in question. They've clearly done enough to establish a good reputation abroad in respect of reparations, and are no longer interested in actually processing claims, safe in the knowledge the international community isn't aware of how it continues to perpetuate Nazi crimes," Friedrich laments.
All photos © Solms Baruth Family
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала