Jewish heirs win landmarkcase over Berlin store site

5th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

4 March 2005, BERLIN - Jewish claimants won on Friday a legal battle with the ailing KarstadtQuelle retail group over prime real estate in Berlin. Judges of the Berlin administrative tribunal rejected a suit by KarstadtQuelle, a German department-store and mail-order chain, and suggested it pay financial compensation to the children of former shareholders in the luxurious pre-war Wertheim department store. Lawyers said new claims would be filed involving six other former Wertheim-owned sites including the

4 March 2005

BERLIN - Jewish claimants won on Friday a legal battle with the ailing KarstadtQuelle retail group over prime real estate in Berlin.

Judges of the Berlin administrative tribunal rejected a suit by KarstadtQuelle, a German department-store and mail-order chain, and suggested it pay financial compensation to the children of former shareholders in the luxurious pre-war Wertheim department store.

Lawyers said new claims would be filed involving six other former Wertheim-owned sites including the land under the Berlin Ritz-Carlton hotel and the federal parliamentary library. The sites are believed to be worth half a EUR billion in total.

"It's a great day for our family. It was the victims, not this big company, that were robbed," said Barbara Principe of New Jersey.

Principe, 72, who is the daughter of former shareholder Guenther Wertheim, was referring to KarstadtQuelle's argument that the Wertheims recovered the property after the war, then sold it to a company that was later absorbed into the retail group.

Judges cut through that argument on Friday, saying it did not matter who owned the shares today, but "who was harmed then".

At stake on Friday was a weedy plot flanked by shiny new buildings on the city's octagonal Leipziger Platz, just around the corner from the new Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate. Before the war it was the site of a magnificent, marble-pillared department store.

The Nazis forced the Jewish owners to sell the business for a pittance before the Second World War. The area was then gutted in wartime bombing, seized by the Soviets, flattened for the communists' Berlin Wall and later given to the West in a land swap.

It was only after the Berlin Wall fell that the wasteland suddenly became valuable. KarstadtQuelle rejoiced at its unexpected luck.

Judges who had to untangle that history ruled Friday in favour of Berlin public officials who said Wertheims were the rightful heirs.

The lawyers for the Wertheim family, Gary M. Osen of the United States and Matthias Druba of Germany, said they would sue next for compensation for other land, including the Beisheim Center which houses the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels on Potsdamer Platz.

Claimants had worried that KarstadtQuelle would go bankrupt before the verdict, but the company said last year it had reserved money in case it lost. Banks rescued the store group, which has been brought low by declining German retail sales.

KarstadtQuelle was denied permission on Friday to appeal. Its lawyers rejected the tribunal ruling, saying it did "not make sense".

The Wertheim store was one of the top places to shop in pre-war Berlin. As the Nazis increased their persecution of Jews during the 1930s, they made it illegal for Jews to own real estate and art treasures. Property had to be auctioned at derisory prices.

The Jewish Claims Conference (JCC) represented the Wertheim heirs at trial, appointing lawyers to assist the Berlin public officials whose original award had been challenged by KarstadtQuelle.

DPA

Subject: German news
 

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