Heirs to Nazi-seized assets sue Claims Conference

Plaintiffs say Jewish organization ‘maliciously’ withholding NIS 2.5 million, request compensation.

Jewish book from Holocaust 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Dojc/Handout)
Jewish book from Holocaust 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Dojc/Handout)
The heirs to Jewish assets the Nazis seized during World War II filed a lawsuit against the Claims Conference on Sunday, saying it is withholding NIS 2.5 million raised from the sale of their properties.
The plaintiffs, of the Lichtenstein and Engel families, accused the Jewish organization – which is charged with negotiating with Germany on behalf of Holocaust victims – of “maliciously” taking hold of Jewish assets in East Germany even when the heirs are living and able to be located.
“The Claims Conference and its representatives failed to take the most elementary actions and that creates great concern as to its good faith,” the complaint stated. “The Claims Conference did not try to locate the heirs, nor to return to the heirs of the Lichtenstein and Engel families what was appropriated from them during the holocaust.”
The Claims Conference, whose full name is the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said on Monday it was unaware of the lawsuit filed in the Tel Aviv District Court until it was contacted by The Jerusalem Post for a response.
“We have yet to receive a statement of claim from the claimants in question,” it said.
“We were very surprised to hear that they approached the media before having presented the statement of claim to the Claims Conference. Only once we receive and study the claim will we be able to issue a response.”
The process of issuing restitution for Jewish real estate in the former East Germany has been complex and sometimes controversial.
After the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, the united German government enabled Jews who owned property in the formally communist part of the country – that was seized or sold under coercion during the Nazi regime – to claim restitution or seek just compensation for their assets. Thousands filed claims before the December 31, 1992 deadline, but many others did not. The Claims Conference extended another deadline for Jewish claimants until 2004.
The claimants in the joint lawsuit said they only recently discovered they were heirs to property in Berlin and other German cities. They maintain they deserve compensation even though they missed the deadlines, which they say were arbitrary.
The Claims Conference said it did everything in its capacity to locate Jewish owners and heirs of property in East Germany, including publishing media ads for years before the last deadline passed. The organization said reallocation of funds already earmarked to help aging Holocaust survivors could tie up many millions of dollars, denying them much-needed financial aid.
The claimants asserted that the 2004 deadline cut short another path by which they could have sought compensation until 2022.