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German prince fights for estate ‘stolen’ after his grandfather tried to kill Hitler

14 20 9

LONDON — The grandson of a German aristocrat involved in the “July plot” to kill Adolf Hitler will this week embark on the next stage of his family’s 30-year legal battle to recover properties that they claim were seized by the Nazis in the closing weeks of World War II.

According to his descendants, Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth III was jailed and tortured for nine months by the Gestapo after the failure of Operation Valkyrie — which included the plot to kill Hitler — in July 1944 before being forced by Heinrich Himmler to hand over his ancestral lands in order to save his life and those of his family.

The family’s fight to recover its estates — launched in the early 1990s in the wake of German reunification — has faced repeated legal setbacks amid allegations of hidden files stashed in government archives.

It has also exposed new evidence about the possible role of the British intelligence services in the “July plot.” Hitler narrowly escaped death after a bomb planted by Count Claus von Stauffenberg exploded under a table during a military briefing at his Wolf’s Lair field headquarters in East Prussia. In the wake of the failed plot, more than 7,000 people were arrested and nearly 5,000 executed.

“It is iniquitous that my family’s property remains sequestered by the German state who prefer to uphold torture, murder and theft by a regime widely accepted as one of the most evil and corrupt in modern history,” Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth V told The Times of Israel ahead of a new ruling from the Cottbus Administrative Court expected later this week.

The German courts have previously ruled that Friedrich III freely handed over his 17,500-hectare lands in Brandenburg, eastern Germany, to the SS chief. They have also dismissed British intelligence reports, unearthed by the younger Friedrich in South Africa a decade ago, that show that his grandfather’s arrest and the confiscation of his estates followed his involvement in the famed plot.

Although a small amount of the estate was returned by the state to the family in a 2003 settlement, the majority of it remains in the possession of the German government.

The German government has also claimed that the land was taken from Friedrich III as part of a postwar East German land reform program and crucial land registry files were destroyed by the East German communist regime. Germany’s restitution laws do not apply to events that occurred after the Nazis’ defeat.

But those claims have been undermined by the discovery of new evidence that proves that it was the Nazis, not the East Germans, who stole his family’s property, says Friedrich, who currently splits his time between South Africa and the south of France.

The legal fight is being supported by former British attorney general Lord Goldsmith. He will lead the battle at the European Court of Human Rights if the German courts again find against the family and the legal process in the country is exhausted.

But, Friedrich argues, the case isn’t just about the return of his family’s estates. He believes it could “shine a light” on the obstacles faced by others — most especially, German Jews — who are trying to recover property stolen by the Third Reich. It will also demonstrate to what degree modern-day Germany has “really learned the lessons from its dark past.”

At the heart of the family’s case has been a sustained effort to demonstrate that Friedrich III lost his lands because of his role in the July plot.

Friedrich says his grandfather’s antipathy to Hitler was longstanding. “My grandfather was completely against Hitler even before he came to power. He saw the threat and he predicted that he would run Germany into the ground,” he says. Friedrich III also told friends and relatives that “I’d shoot the bastard myself if I could only get close enough to him.”

Friedrich III withstood SS pressure to join the Nazi party on many occasions and wouldn’t employ on his estate those who were members. He also refused to give the Nazi salute and forbade those working for him from doing so. The Nazi press was certainly no fan of the prince, accusing him of “not showing sufficient joy on the occasion of the Fuhrer’s birthday” and “trying to form a state within a state” on his vast lands.

Indeed, Friedrich III, who left the German army in order to avoid swearing an oath of allegiance to Hitler, also resisted the Nazis’ attempts to take land from........

© The Times of Israel

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