by Sharon Oppenheimer

On the 76th anniversary of the failed assassination-attempt on Adolf Hitler, Germany stands on the brink of a pioneering restitution case which may have serious consequences: The grandson of one of the conspirators of the 20th July, 1944, plot and staunch opponent of the Nazis, is being forced by the authorities into escalated litigation regarding property confiscated from his family by the Nazis. He has uncovered Nazi methods which have never before been described in such a precise manner. Should his litigation be successful, a wave of restitution claims may descend onto Germany from heirs of victims who had their property taken by the Nazis in the same veiled manner.  In this regard, questions need to be clarified whether, and to what extent, these methods and facts upon which the restitution claims are founded were known to the authorities all along.  


On the afternoon of the 21st of July, 1944, Prince Friedrich of Solms-Baruth was arrested by six Gestapo men in his castle Baruth, roughly 50km South of Berlin. He had been a staunch opponent of the Nazis before they even came to power and was initiated into the assassination plans from the start. On the afternoon before the 20th of July he met with General Ludwig von Beck, the head of the conspiracy in Baruth. Field Marshal von Witzleben, General von Hase, Count von der Schulenburg, Count Lynar and Count von Lehndorff were but a few of the key conspirators who would meet with the prince in his home or ride out into the woods with him in order to avoid eves-droppers.

It had already been evident by midnight: The coup had failed. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Heaften, General Olbricht and Albrecht Ritter von Quiernheim had been shot on orders of General Fromm. Only General Ludwig von Beck had been allowed to commit suicide. Fromm was an opportunist to the core who feared his complicity would be revealed. In the early hours of the morning Major General Henning von Tresckow had committed suicide in the woods close to Bialystock. Thereafter an enormous action of retribution swept over the participants and conspirators of the plot. The gestapo men, lead by Sturmbannfuehrer Bruhn, placed the prince between them in an open car and drove up and down the main road of Baruth until the last inquisitive inhabitant had realised that their Prince was now in the power of the Gestapo. Then they took him to the notorious headquarters of the Gestapo in Berlin, the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse prison, today called "The House of Horrors". 

The following day, on the 22nd July, 1944 the princess and her children were thrown out of their home which had been in the family since 1596 and taken into "Sippenhaft“, collective punishment. Hitler had personally ordered the families of the conspirators to be treated according to "collective punishment" because they had "bad blood...traitor blood", as he shouted in his rage. 


Toward evening, one of the daughters of Friedrich returned from a dentist appointment in Dresden. She had thus far escaped the arrest and could hardly believe her eyes: SS men were carrying out works of art, paintings and furniture from the family home, loading them onto trucks, while senselessly smashing other furniture. Asked what was going on, one of the SS shouted in her face: "None of this belongs to you anymore! This is no longer your home!"

A few days later the show trials of the conspirators of the 20th July plot commenced under the presiding judge Roland Freisler, a fanatic National Socialist. Only a year prior he had sent members of "The White Rose", a resistance group against National Socialism, consisting mainly of students, to the guillotine. Freisler was notorious for his shouting, his insults and his death verdicts. Marked by torture and hunger, the accused were presented and their prearranged verdicts read. "They are to hang like slaughtered animals!", Hitler had ordered in rage and they were accordingly hung on meat hooks.


The hearings and the executions were filmed and declared a "Secret Reich Matter" while Hitler gloated in the humiliation and death-throws of the condemned. Even their ashes were strewn over the wastewater purification fields of Berlin.


Friedrich, Prince of Solms-Baruth III became the Personal prisoner of the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler. Through the SS, the security services and the Gestapo, Himmler, the epitome of a nerd, organisor of extermination factories and cold-blooded mass murderer of millions, had managed to make a sinister system of surveillance, arbitrariness and terror socially acceptable. He had implemented gigantic plans of expulsion, enslavement and liquidation. 


Himmler had special plans for the prince. He would let him live, in a manner of speaking: He would not lead him into a humiliating show trail, but let him suffer hunger, torture and interrogation precisely according to Nazi methods. In the months of his imprisonment, somewhere between hunger, thirst and sadistic torment, Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth prayed to his God. His entire life he had been a devout Protestant, while Himmler and the Nazi leadership followed the darkness of the cult of the black sun, the belief in a white, blond, blue-eyed “master race” and a new insane religion based on teutonic esoteric, racism, occultism and a completely irrational blind hatred towards Jews and Gypsies. 


Unlike Hitler, Himmler was sufficiently realistic to realise that the end of the Third Reich was near. The Red Army was daily moving closer into the West and the Allies had already landed in Normandy. Himmler wanted to save his skin and negotiate a ceasefire with the British and Americans, in the worst case even a surrender, but not with the Russians. To this aim he needed neutral Sweden, more particularly its Royal Family, the Bernadottes, in order to initiate negotiations - and the Prince of Solms-Baruth was the uncle of the heir to the Swedish throne. Eventually, negotiations took place between Himmler and Count Folke Bernadotte, Head of the Swedish Red Cross. In February, 1945, Bernadotte was able to achieve the release of  scandinavian concentration camp prisoners in the so-called operation of the "white busses".  During negotiations on the 15th of April Himmler conceded to bring some women from the concentration camp of Ravensbruek to Sweden- one day after he had ordered that not a single inmate of any labour or concentration camp should be left alive . His order was the start of mass executions and death marches. 


The other part of his plan envisaged taking the castles and properties of the prince. The Nazis had attempted before to pocket the properties of Solms-Baruth. In the mean-time Himmler sought to obtain the power of disposal over the forestry enterprises of Solms-Baruth, since the SS business enterprise urgently needed timber as raw material, which they were able to obtain at an advantage over all other  Nazi organisations without having to go though any allocation processes. Thus Friedrich´s brother was also arrested who had until then been employed by Friedrich to manage only the estate of Baruth. Himmler made it unmistakably clear that the prince should be left no possibility whatsoever of making any decisions regarding his properties. Himmler initially concentrated on setting up a notarised declaration to transfer the properties of the prince onto his brother under the condition that the brother first subjugate himself to Himmler and declare himself a "good Nazi" while pledging obedience to carry out all Nazi orders and not to accept any orders ever again from his brother, the prince.

Himmler´s instructions to Sturmbannfuehrer Bruhn were to force the prince into signing a declaration after his brother had signed the subjugation document towards Himmler. In the next step the prince was coerced into signing a notarised irrevocable document in which he transferred all his powers of disposal over his entire property in Baruth and Klitschdrof/ Kliczków and accept banishment from these, which also thereby terminated his ownership rights over his enterprises. Only Himmler could personally lift this blockage, which he never did. 


Copies of this document were handed out to all regional authorities and SS stations. Some time thereafter the brother of the prince was replaced by a highly decorated SA "Standartenfuehrer"and Major of the Wehrmacht with an Iron Cross. With this diabolical trick Himmler had achieved full control over the enterprises and properties of the prince without the need to confiscate them formally. 


After nearly nine months of solitary imprisonment, torture and interrogation, prince Solms-Baruth was coerced into singing this document, factually handing over 17,300 hectares (=173,000 Dunam) in Brandenburg (today Germany) and another  20,000 hectares (= 200,000 Dunam)  of land in Silesia (today Poland) including all his enterprises, castles,  buildings and inventory, in express exchange for his life and the survival of his family. Thereafter he was released: a broken man, robbed of all his possessions  and in disastrous health. His only support was his beloved family. Himmler could well still have had him murdered at any moment of his pleasing, however, he still needed him alive to keep the construction of the veiled confiscation of properes and enterprises as undetected as possible and for unblemished further negotiations with Bernadotte. Until shortly before the downfall Himmler negotiated with Bernadotte, believing he could save himself. Bernadotte hoped to have 10,000 arbitrarily detained Scandinavian concentration camp inmates released who were known as Nazi enemies and arrested. Later, Victor Mallet, the British Envoy to Sweden from 1940-1945, wrote about this in his memoirs. Their last meeting took place during the night of the 23rd to the 24th April. When Hitler heard that Himmler hat attempted to take up contact with Dwight D. Eisenhower behind his back, he few into a fit of rage and excluded Himmler from the NSDAP as well as all state positions. Neither Truman, Churchill or Eisenhower were interested in negotiations. All they wanted was to end the reign of German terror over Europe. 


Following the war, prince Solms-Baruth emigrated to South-West Africa with his family. This was only possible because the South African President, Jan Smuts, an intelligence services expert and close confidant of Churchill, had obtained a British Intelligence report confirming that the prince had assisted the Allied forces, been persecuted, arrested and had his properties confiscated by the Getapo as a result of his implication in the 20th July plot and his close association with the key figures in it.  Friedrich lived only a few years longer since his health had suffered greatly due to the time in Gestapo captivity. He died in 1951 in what is today Namibia. 


76 years later: In commemoration of July 20, 1944, all the relevant persons and institutions are gathering in Germany. This appointment is symbolic with worldwide effect as the clearest evidence of a collective and physical resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. It serves as proof and moral relief for the German people, that one did not stand idly by to the end. But the truth is, that there are still enough people in Germany who consider the men and women of the 20th July as traitors, just as the general population, with some exceptions, still have not been cured of their Antisemitism and Antiziganism (discrimination against gypsies). The ability of the Nazis to veil their persecution and confiscation methods and allow their seemingly harmless regulations to appear legal are practically unknown publicly. Even the courts constantly revert to a view already fought against by Fritz Bauer in the 1950´s and 1960´s, without consulting historical experts, that the NS dictatorship and its activities are to be viewed and interpreted as those of a Democracy enjoying the rule of law. Logically, this leads to the methods being played down to the extent that the veiled methods of the Nazi jurists and their ideology-drenched language is interpreted as harmless purely according to the wording and not as discriminatory or exclusionary toward their political opponents, the victims.   


In 1989, the son, Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth IV, initiated litigation in Germany for the return of the properties and enterprises stolen by the Nazis. Only the expropriated properties and enterprises in Brandenburg/Germany are subject to the current restitution claim. Since the Silesian estates are now in Poland, restitution claims do not apply to these. He did not live to see justice carried out, dying in 2005. Since then, the grandson of the original persecuted victim, Friedrich V, and his legal team have uncovered new evidence which they hope  will convince the German courts to finally recognise the coerced transfer of property onto the Gestapo and order its return.


During a hearing in 2014 in which the renown historian Sir Antony Beevor´s testimony was disallowed,  amongst others, the responsible authority for the Federal Republic refused to provide contrasting historical expert testimony. Yet, the court decided in favour of the State, meaning that in the Solms-Baruth case, the current Germany effectively implemented Nazi "law" by classifying as harmless all persecution methods against the prince. 

The courts argue that it was merely a coincidence that the prince was arrested by the Gestapo a day after the failed coup. The presiding judge of the first hearing told the grandson of the original victim: "You have no idea how sick and tired I am of hearing how bad the Nazis were each time someone wants something from me here". Thus far, all courts held the opinion that the wording of the notarised document which the grandfather of the current plaintiff was forced to sign neither led to the loss of property, nor the disposal of power over it, which is why the Federal Republic of Germany, as legitimate legal heir of the Third Reich and the GDR, is the rightful owner of the Solms-Baruth property. This attitude did not change after the document of the 19.02.1945 was found according to which the brother of the prince had to subjugate himself fully to Himmler´s power  in expectation of the irrevocable transferral of power of disposal onto him from his brother. 

So far, the process of coercion is being treated as a harmless agreement between two parties freely signed on an equal basis even though forced in Gestapo captivity to be equated with a contract signed in a notary´s office within Germany today. 

The courts claim, without any historical foundation whatsoever, let alone proof, that, essentially, the plaintiff is unable to prove that his grandfather was forced into signing the notarised irrevocable document and that, moreover, this document does not constitute any loss of his power of disposal over his property. 


The judges have categorically refused all historical experts named by Solms-Baruth by claiming that they alone have the superior historical knowledge and that expert witnesses are therefore not to be heard. Normally, in such cases the courts turn to the renown Institute for Contemporary History (IfZG) in Munich. The expert witness statement presented by the plaintiff from this very institute was interpreted into its opposite by the court and the expert was not allowed to clarify what he had meant. The plaintiff is not allowed, under dubious procedural regulations, to enter new evidence into the on-going case but is forced to open entirely new cases for each new piece of evidence found, with resulting legal costs. 


Why has the case of Solms-Baruth remained unknown and why it is currently being treated like a hot potato? 

The argument for restitution is founded on a special law enshrined in the Constitution, according to which a factual loss "a loss of property in another manner" is to be treated exactly as a formal confiscation such as, for example, transfer of the property in the deeds books.  

This legal concept is based on a demand by the Allies shortly following WWII, which also became content of the new law and effective in1990 in the Federal Republic. At the time, the Allies insisted on this law being taken up into the Constitution in order to prevent the state from thwarting reparations and restitutions for Nazi crimes. More precisely: They wanted to avoid that in regard to expropriations, reparations would become impossible merely because the Nazis had cloaked their crimes in a veneer of legality, as they did towards all persecuted victims and opponents to the regime. Shortly after WWII,  experts were still well aware of these back-handed Nazi methods, which is why an eye was kept on not allowing them to get away with it. In this regard it is important to note that the expropriation of opponents of the Nazis often resulted in the personal enrichment of Nazis members: The German tax authorities, lead by the "Supreme Finance Director", Berlin, organised investigations, confiscations and exploitations of the victim´s properties, often via auctions and passing them on to party members. Such property shifts were obviously no longer to have any duration following the war.  But this line of thought is abandoned by the courts with the change in historical awareness. Nazi favourites can keep the stolen properties and if it lands in the possession of the state, it seems harmless because it is no longer the Nazi state. However, the result of the loss remains the same since the Federal Republic is the beneficiary of the regulations it created for itself in order to obtain an advantage out of the Nazi property grab carried out against an opponent of the Nazis.

Thus the courts repeatedly ignore precisely this law which resulted out of experience with the Nazi dictatorship, and according to which they are constitutionally bound to adhere, by claiming that the  plaintiff, in this case the grandson of Friedrich Solms-Baruth, has no claim to restitution because apparently no formal confiscation occurred. 

The Federal Republic instead relies on claiming that the theft occurred only after May 1945 and that therefore the restitution laws on which the case is based do not apply - but science refutes this: Chemical analysis of the ink dates the written orders in the Deeds Books for destruction of the deeds registries as proof of ownership of the victim to have been carried out by the Nazis pre May 1945, in other words before the end of the Nazi regime, and thus clearly demonstrates that the Nazis had conspired to cover up their illegal expropriation. Crucially, the original files were preserved and chemical ink analysis in the Solms-Baruth case indicates that roughly 10% -20% of similarly veiled expropriations are to be restituted according to German property law, which had been until now classified as ineligible for restitution since they were categorised as "Land Reform confiscations" under the East German regime.  


These new scientific discoveries - in themselves irrefutable proof for a restitution claim according Property Law - along with further documented forensic proof that “Land Reform” was never applied to the Solms-Baruth properties post war, were not even taken into consideration by the Federal Administrative Court, thus forcing the claimant into expensive Constitutional litigation. The Federal Republic of Germany now sees itself faced with extensive litigation which could result in the restitution of innumerable properties which were subject in similar fashion to the veiled Nazi expropriation and persecution model of the Solms-Baruth case. 





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