Court Rules for Jewish Group in Nazi Case
Oct. 23, 2003
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ General claims submitted by a Jewish group seeking to regain property taken by the Nazis in what became East Germany are valid if they can be supported by official documents, a court ruled Thursday.
The Federal Administrative Court's ruling effectively applies restitution laws set up by the Allies in the former West Germany after World War II to the states of ex-East Germany, which merged with the west in 1990. It also overturns two lower court decisions that blocked several claims on a legal technicality.
Thursday's decision sends the issue back to the lower courts in Berlin and Leipzig to reconsider their decision.
The Jewish Claims Conference welcomed the ruling, saying it was in keeping with Germany's post-World War II restitution laws.
``Erecting insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles in order to keep a considerable part of the wealth the Nazis robbed from Jews in the hands of the government, or the heirs of those who took it, would not be in agreement with the restitution laws of Germany,'' said Karl Brozik, director of the Claims Conference for Germany. The conference seeks restitution of Jewish community property as well as homes whose former owners were killed in the Holocaust.
After reunification, the conference was required to submit its claims to property in the former East Germany by Dec. 31, 1992. In many cases, however, the claims conference was unable to come up with documents specifying the original owners and the value, and instead submitted general claims, which the two lower courts had ruled were insufficient.
``We can't rely on family memories or personal documents'' to provide the detailed information required, said Cornelia Levy of the German Claims Conference, adding they were under tremendous time pressure to dig the details out of archives or institutions.
``We only had 1 1/2 or less than two years to get this together,'' Levy said.
The claims conference supported their general claims with archival documents that they could not put their hands by the deadline, she said.
Judge Wolfgang Sailer overturned the lower court decisions, ruling that mere reference to more exact information was sufficient for an initial application, as long as the claims conference could provide the necessary details later.