The Claims Conference has published a list of thousands of Jews who owned property in the former East Germany before the Nazi era, in a last-ditch effort to allow their heirs to reclaim the lost property.
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Each item on the list includes the owner's name, city and street address of the property: For instance, Moritz Auerbach, Dresden, Freiberger Str. 4.
To view the full list, click here.
Any heirs found eligible will receive compensation from a special 50 million euro fund (about NIS 250 million) set up by the Claims Conference. Details on how to apply are on the organization's website.
This Late Applicants Fund, which will accept applications until December 31, 2014, will be the last chance to obtain compensation for property that was first lost to the Nazis, then nationalized by the Communists and finally restituted by the Claims Conference. The Claims Conference was recognized by the German government as the legal successor of property owned by Jews or by Jewish communities and organizations in the former East Germany and were left unclaimed after December 31, 1992.
"All that's needed is to go to the website, download the form, fill it out - in English or German - and send it to the address listed on the site," said Shlomo Gur, the group's vice president for Israel.
The Claims Conference hopes this will finally bring an end to a complex issue that has pitted different interests against each other, sparked arguments both inside and outside the organization, and even prompted lawsuits against it by people whose claims were rejected. Gur explained this complexity in a conversation at his office in Jerusalem this week.
"You have to distinguish between the legal situation and the moral and ethical aspect," he said. "From a legal standpoint, under German law, the situation is very clear: The Claims Conference is the owner of this property, and it has a mandate to use it for the benefit of the collective."
But from a moral perspective, the picture is more complex, because this is property that was owned by private individuals before the Holocaust.
The Claims Conference sold it for about $2.9 billion, and has so far paid about $800 million of this sum to several thousand people recognized as legal heirs to various properties. It set aside another $200 million to cover claims that haven't yet been settled.
And what of the other $1.9 billion? In some cases, the property has no legal heirs, since they all perished in the Holocaust. In others, putative heirs haven't succeeded in proving their claim. In still others, the heirs either weren't able or didn't want to apply for compensation. That left the organization with the thorny and argument-inducing question of what to do with this money.
So far, it has allocated approximately $1 billion of this sum primarily on helping needy Holocaust survivors and a small amount on Holocaust education, research and commemoration. Some of the rest will also go toward these purposes, and the remainder - 50 million euros - is meant to cover valid claims by people who missed the last filing deadline.
To understand how the Claims Conference obtained this property and why it is setting up the new fund now, it's necessary to go back to 1990. After Germany's reunification, the German government allowed heirs to Jewish property in East Germany to sue for recovery of their property. But it said no suits would be accepted after the end of 1992.
Thousands of people managed to file their claims on time and receive compensation, but thousands of additional properties were left unclaimed. The German government therefore authorized the Claims Conference to sue for legal ownership of these properties.
The conference ultimately filed suit for some 120,000 properties - anything it could find in the German land registry whose owners had Jewish-sounding names. Unable to investigate each property in depth in the limited time available, it opted to spread its net as widely as possible in an effort to save the maximum amount of Jewish property.
So far, German courts have decided 100,000 of these suits; another 20,000 cases are still pending. In most cases, the properties turned out to have been owned by non-Jews; sometimes, they were even owned by Nazis with Jewish-sounding names - like Alfred Rosenberg, a Nazi official executed after the Nuremberg trials.
Ultimately, the Claims Conference obtained about 15 percent of these properties, and it then allowed heirs who hadn't managed to meet the German deadline to claim compensation from it instead. The organization set up a fund to handle these claims, the Goodwill Fund, which paid out some $800 million before shutting down in 2004.
Since then, however, the conference has received complaints from individuals and organizations who say that for various reasons, they weren't able to file claims before, but want to do so now. It therefore decided to set up the Late Applicants Fund.