Anti-Nazi fam­ily launches fight for land compo

Aris­to­crat signed away es­tate in Gestapo jail af­ter failed plot on Hitler’s life

The New Zealand Herald - - World -

BERLIN — Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth was swept up by the Gestapo the day af­ter a failed 1944 bomb­ing at­tempt on Hitler and thrown into the se­cret po­lice’s no­to­ri­ous Prinz Al­brecht Strasse prison in down­town Berlin.

Un­like scores of oth­ers con­nected with the Kreisau Cir­cle of plot­ters who were ex­e­cuted, the Ger­man aris­to­crat was even­tu­ally re­leased — but not be­fore he had signed away own­er­ship of his fam­ily’s es­tates on the or­der of Gestapo and SS chief Hein­rich Himm­ler.

Now, some 60 years later, Solm­sBaruth’s grand­son is con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily’s fight for com­pen­sa­tion for the mil­lions of dol­lars in lost prop­erty, tak­ing his case to court.

‘‘My fa­ther did it for his fa­ther, and un­for­tu­nately didn’t live to the day to see jus­tice served . . . there­fore I am vir­tu­ally mak­ing this a life’s quest,’’ Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth, who shares his grand­fa­ther’s name, said from Barcelona, Spain, ahead of a hear­ing to­day.

‘‘It’s re­ally ab­surd that we should be talk­ing about some­thing like this to­day, when it’s ob­vi­ous a man who was im­pris­oned af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, with vir­tu­ally a noose around his neck, was forced to sign his prop­er­ties away.’’

The ques­tion the court will de­cide is when Solms-Baruth’s grand­fa­ther lost his prop­er­ties: when he signed away power-of-at­tor­ney in the Gestapo prison, but re­mained the of­fi­cial owner on the books, or when the area was oc­cu­pied by the Soviet Union im­me­di­ately af­ter the war and all large es­tates were seized and land re­dis­tributed.

If the lat­ter, Ger­man court de­ci­sions since re­uni­fi­ca­tion have ruled for­mer land own­ers have no claims.

At stake is nearly 7000ha of land in the state of Bran­den­burg held by the state, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and pri­vate com­pa­nies.

Solms-Baruth said there’s no es­ti­mate on how much the de­vel­oped prop­er­ties are worth be­cause it has not yet been es­tab­lished ex­actly what lands were part of his grand­fa­ther’s es­tate, but that the forested ar­eas alone are thought to be worth 7 mil­lion ($16.80 mil­lion).

Peter Ilk, mayor of Baruth — one of the towns at the cen­tre of the dis­pute that still car­ries the fam­ily’s name — said he could not com­ment in de­tail be­cause of the on­go­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings, but that it would be good to have the mat­ter set­tled.

‘‘We must ac­cept the de­ci­sion, no mat­ter how it comes, but it is im­por­tant that there is a de­ci­sion so that it will put an end to this is­sue, no mat­ter how it turns out,’’ he said.

The case comes amid a re­newed fo­cus in re­cent months on the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler led by Colonel Claus Graf Schenk von Stauf­fen­berg, in part be­cause of the up­com­ing Tom Cruise film Valkyrie based on the event, in which the Amer­i­can ac­tor plays the aris­to­cratic colonel. Von Stauf­fen­berg placed the bomb in a con­fer­ence room where Hitler was meet­ing with his aides and mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers.

Many plot­ters were ar­rested and ex­e­cuted in re­venge killings that saw some hanged by the neck with pi­ano wire.

Solms-Baruth’s grand­fa­ther, a long­time anti-Nazi, was in­volved in dis­cus­sions of the plot and pro­vided two of his man­sions as meet­ing places.

But the ev­i­dence against Solm­sBaruth was thin, and he was kept alive in an at­tempt to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion about other plot­ters, ac­cord­ing to his grand­son.

It is also thought that Himm­ler, who tried to es­tab­lish a sep­a­rate peace with the Al­lies through Swe­den at the end of the war as the Red Army closed in, did not want to jeop­ar­dise that by ex­e­cut­ing a Ger­man prince with hered­i­tary links to Swe­den and Den­mark.

‘‘ It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that Himm­ler even­tu­ally de­cided to spare the prince’s life af­ter he had com­pleted all his in­ter­ro­ga­tions and tor­ture out of fear that fur­ther ac­tions against the prince could harm his at­tempts with Swe­den,’’ Solms-Baruth said.

In­stead, his grand­fa­ther pledged to re­lin­quish all rights of own­er­ship of his prop­er­ties and ac­cept ban­ish­ment. He fled with his fam­ily to south­ern Africa. He died shortly af­ter the war, but told his son to get the fam­ily’s lands back, said Solms-Baruth, 45, a Ger­man ci­ti­zen who splits his time be­tween res­i­dences in Monaco and South Africa.

TOR­TURED: Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth III.

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