Anti-Nazi family launches fight for land compo
Aristocrat signed away estate in Gestapo jail after failed plot on Hitler’s life
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.