German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported German federal officials' confirmation Friday, which recognizes Jewish heirs as the rightful owners of property in downtown Berlin seized by the Nazis and now worth at least 145 million euros (185 million dollars).
The Federal Agency for Unresolved Property Questions has ruled the heirs of the Wertheim retail dynasty - who were driven out of Germany by the Nazis in the 1930s - can reclaim the property via the Jewish Claims Conference.
The claim involves 20,000 square meters of prime real estate on Berlin's prestigious Potsdamer Platz which is also claimed by department store and mail order giant KarstadtQuelle AG. Located at the former Berlin Wall, the property was given for free to the KarstadtQuelle forerunner, Hertie, in the early 1990s, by the city government of Berlin.
Hertie then sold the land to Otto Beisheim, owner of the Metro wholesale concern, for 145 million euros in 2000. Beisheim has since built a luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the property.
According to DPA, the ruling by the Federal Agency for Unresolved Property Questions shows that KarstadtQuelle was not the legal owner of the property at the time it was sold to Beisheim. A lawyer for the Wertheim heirs, Matthias Druba, called on KarstadtQuelle CEO Thomas Middelhoff to accept the ruling and not to begin any further lawsuits over the property.
"KarstadtQuelle should pay at least the 145 million euros they received for the property," Druba said. "I hope that (Middelhoff) is not going to stand in the way of restitution for Nazi injustice."
But Middelhoff replied the company would indeed be taking legal action to prevent paying the money and expected there would be no final decision for years. "We won't pay a penny and assume that we will not have to," said KarstadtQuelle spokesman Joerg Howe.