German-American non-Jewish attorney Peter Sonnenthal and his family, which has Jewish roots (his grandmother was Jewish and perished in Auschwitz) have been fighting for more than two decades to reclaim lucrative properties stolen from them under the Nazi regime, Spiegel reported, adding that Sonnenthal continues to face legal hurdles in trying to restore this legacy.
Sonnenthal, who worked in the 1980s for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), was feared and loathed by swindlers. For the past 22 years, he has been using his tenacity and legal skills fighting in German courts for the restitution of property in the German state of Brandenburg, just outside Berlin, that belongs to his family.
At stake are 250 acres of prime real estate in the upscale Berlin suburb of Teltow, some 1,000 properties altogether, worth millions of euros.
Sonnenthal’s court battles began in 1991, when he was 37, and his case has since made its way through a maze of German courts, starting with the local and state offices for unresolved property issues, up to the Brandenburg Higher State Administrative Court, then five hearings before the German Federal Administrative Court, then the German Finance Ministry, then it was finally appealed before the German Federal Constitutional Court, Germany’s highest judicial body.
Despite minor victories, Spiegel remarks, Sonnenthal has repeatedly run into obstacles over two decades of litigation.
Sonnenthal is angry, to say the least. “Historical facts are being denied, the law is being abused, and the Nazis of Teltow are being vindicated after the fact,” he says.
According to Sonnenthal, everything has to be contested in court and absolutely no concessions are made. “This is offensive to the family,” he says. “Our property was stolen, and now we have to justify ourselves.”
Robert Unger, whose law office has been representing Sonnenthal for years, says that he has never experienced a case like this. “The town of Teltow’s claim that – after 60 years of living and developing their land in Teltow – the family voluntarily decided to transfer their entire property to a Nazi is absurd and grotesque. It’s a disgrace,” he says.
Teltow’s mayor Thomas Schmidt contends that his town does not have a political agenda in the case. He notes that a forest has grown on the properties that Sonnenthal intends to reclaim, arguing that some of the land now falls within nature conservation areas. In other words, since the stolen properties had fallen into neglect in the hands of the thieves, to the point where they were reclaimed by the forest – the victims can no longer have a claim to them.
Even the ten or so properties Sonnenthal has been able to reacquire remained a source of frustration to him, since local courts won’t allow him to build duplexes on them. Once again, the joke is on him, comments Spiegel, but Sonnenthal isn’t laughing.