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Claims Conference offers last chance for East Germany property heirs

JTA

February 20, 2013 | 12:06 pm

Jews who owned property seized by the Nazis in what became East Germany have a last chance to receive compensation for it.

For the first time in a decade, the Claims Conference has agreed to review new claims by potential heirs to Jewish-owned properties in the former East Germany.

On Feb. 19, the organization announced that it is establishing a $67 million fund — 50 million euros — for eligible heirs. The Late Applicants Fund will be open to claimants until Dec. 31, 2014.

After German reunification in 1990, Jewish heirs had until 1993 to file their claims to properties in the former East Germany. All properties for which no heir could be established were handed over to the Claims Conference under a 1990 agreement that made the Claims Conference’s so-called Successor Organization the legal successor to those properties.

The deal has netted the Claims Conference some $3 billion in recovered real estate assets, not including properties that went to heirs who could be found. The Claims Conference has sold most of the properties it received from Germany and spent more than $1.6 billion of the proceeds on home care for elderly Holocaust survivors, grants for organizations that benefit survivors, and Holocaust education and documentation.

Another $940 million went to a so-called Goodwill Fund set up for claimants who missed the Dec. 31, 1992, deadline to file their property claims. The fund enabled them to receive proceeds from the sale of the properties that Germany already had restituted to the Claims Conference and subsequently were sold.

The Claims Conference has come under criticism in the past for not being responsive to claimants who missed filing deadlines, though the Goodwill Fund’s application process was extended several times. The final extension took place in 2004, with amendments made in 2009 and 2010 for certain heirs, according to the Claims Conference.

Detailed rules and applications for the Late Applicants Fund are available on the Claims Conference’s Web site, Claimscon.org. The Web site also features a list of Jews who owned property in what would become East Germany before the beginning of the Nazi era that contains thousands of entries.

Since its Holocaust reparations programs began, Germany has paid out the equivalent of more than $70 billion to survivors and programs to help survivors.

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