Saving Nazi-Stolen Properties To Help Holocaust Survivors

Author:Mr Julius Berman
Profession:Kaye Scholer LLP

Article by Julius Berman and Roman Kent

Hal Lieberman and Daniel Kornstein conclude their recent column about the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany with a disclaimer that they do not have any clients with claims against the conference (NYLJ, March 8). Their article also reveals that they do not possess even the most basic facts about the conference or its work.

At its core, their piece reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the legal role of the Claims Conference regarding unclaimed, formerly Jewish-owned property located in what was East Germany. Contrary to the authors' assertion, the Claims Conference does not hold any such property as a trustee. Rather, for property seized or forced to be sold by the Nazis and not reclaimed by the end of 1992—the German imposed claims deadline—the conference had the legal right to try to recover such assets, or receive related compensation, with the mission to use what was retrieved to assist Holocaust survivors in need worldwide.

Had the authors bothered to ask, or to research the matter, they would have learned it was the Claims Conference that led the lobbying efforts to amend the pertinent German law to allow Jewish Holocaust victims and their heirs to file claims for the return of property from the German government, as well as to extend the deadlines for such claims. Indeed, conference's efforts enabled thousands of such owners or their heirs to obtain property from the German government after reunification in 1990.

Lieberman and Kornstein repeatedly assert that the conference acts as a trustee, presumably without any time limit, for former owners of any recovered property. But repetition does not make it so. And, to be clear, this trustee allegation is the mantra of the attorneys, referred to in the article as the "Claimants Representative Committee," currently litigating against the Claims Conference. It is beyond the scope of this letter to identify all cases which have rejected the very trustee allegation the authors advance. But might it not be too much to ask that two lawyers, writing in the Law Journal, would have familiarized themselves with the various relevant decisions by German courts, as well as by courts in the United States? Those courts have uniformly affirmed that the Claims Conference holds title to any of the recovered property and related compensation received; not as a trustee for the former owners of the property or their heirs, but in furtherance of its...

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