Jewish heirs settle over Berlin property

"The Wertheim department store was a symbol of German Jewry before the war."

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A Jewish family has settled its compensation claim with a leading German retailer over property in Berlin that the family lost under the Nazis, ending a 15-year dispute over the site, the Jewish Claims conference said Friday. KarstadtQuelle AG agreed to pay €88 million (US$117.5 million) to the Claims Conference, which has fought on behalf of heirs to the Wertheim family for the restitution of the land, it said in a statement, thereby resolving any outstanding legal disputes on the property in both Germany and the United States. "This settlement is of tremendous importance," Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference vice president, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The Wertheim department store was a symbol of German Jewry before the war, it is about recognizing history." The settlement was agreed to after a year of negotiations mediated by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It brings to a close a legal battle over the site that started in 1991 when the land was sold to developers after German reunification for €145 million. "My family and I are glad that we have finally reached this agreement with KarstadtQuelle AG to end the legal battle over Wertheim," said Barbara Principe, in a statement. Principe and her family are descendants of the Wertheims, who once ran a grand department store at the disputed site, known as the Lenne Triangle, by downtown Berlin's Potsdamer Platz. During the Cold War, the property was trapped in the no man's land between East and West Berlin. Under Adolf Hitler's "Aryanization" laws, the family lost the business. The Hertie department store bought the assets under disputed circumstances after the war. KarstadtQuelle bought Hertie in 1994. Taylor gave credit to the efforts by Kohl, who engaged each side in talks before bringing them together, and a willingness on the part of KarstadtQuelle chief executive Thomas Middelhoff to see an end to the dispute. "I think there was a sense that the time had finally come to bring this case to closure," Taylor said. "There was a strong legal case and a strong moral case, and Karstadt finally came to accept that."