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Jews of Germany Enbroiled in Feud over Who Owns Confiscated Property

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On the eve of German unification, the established Jewish community is still embroiled in a dispute with a private group challenging its status as the legal successor and heir to the Jewish property destroyed or confiscated by the Nazis.

At stake are some 800 buildings and parcels of land, mainly in East Berlin, seized by the Nazis more than 50 years ago and kept without remuneration by the East German Communist authorities after the war.

The Bonn and East Berlin governments have agreed that the property, worth tens of millions of dollars, will be restored to Jewish ownership after unification takes place Wednesday.

The official Jewish communities of West and East Germany, which have already united, were considered to be the sole beneficiary.

But a private organization, the Berlin-based Adass Isroel, emerged a year ago to contest their position. It is headed by Mario Offenberg, an Israeli citizen living in West Berlin.

He and his group claim to represent the survivors and descendants of Adass Isroel, a separate Orthodox community in prewar Berlin.

They argue that the official Jewish community in no way represents their interests and concerns.

But Heinz Galinski and Peter Kirchner, the leaders respectively of the previously separate West and East German Jewish communities, insist that the integrated postwar Jewish community all but absorbed Adass Isroel and is its legal successor. They say there is no legal basis or moral merit to Offenberg’s claim.

Galinski has accused the outgoing East German government of giving preferential treatment to the “Mario Offenberg group.” He said the Jewish community might take legal steps if Jewish property in Berlin is turned over to a private organization.

PROBLEMS WITH EAST GERMAN CLAIMS

He and Kirchner argue that the postwar integrated Jewish community has all but absorbed Adass Isroel and become its legal successor.

They were supported by some survivors of the old Adass Isroel, who charged recently that Offenberg and his group are nothing more than a family-based private organization.

Complications have arisen, meanwhile, in the Jewish community’s efforts to identify and lay claim to former Jewish property all over East Germany. Simona Bendit, a West German lawyer retained for the task, has charged in the community’s weekly publication that the East German authorities were deliberately creating difficulties.

In East Berlin and many cities and towns across East Germany, the Jewish community has the formidable, time-consuming task of tracing plots of land and buildings and proving who the legal owners are. But municipalities allow it to consult old land registers only every Tuesday, Bendit reported.

The registers have been kept in humid cellars and many are in very poor condition. The lawyer complained further that the East German authorities refused access to the so-called “C-lists” of Jewish property, which were prepared by the Allied occupation authorities in Germany in 1946. “This is a scandal,” she told the weekly.

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