German Minister Says Heirs of Crematorium Maker Won’t Be Compensated

The heirs to the family that built the concentration camp crematoriums will have their claims for compensation rejected, Germany’s justice minister has said. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sent a letter to Berlin’s mayor, Wolfgang Luder, saying the heirs to the J.A. Topf and Sons company are not eligible for the restitution they claim because the factory was used to manufacture the “murder machinery of the extermination camp.”

The German government has already rejected a petition to have the factory site and other assets returned to the heirs.

The factory site, which is located in the eastern industrial city of Erfurt, was seized by the Soviets in 1948. Under current German law, and confiscated between 1945 and 1949 by communist authorities in what would later become East Germany, cannot be returned.

But the Topf family is still seeking financial restitution for the seized property, which is valued at more than $2 million.

Jews officials brought the issue to Luder “because he has been sympathetic to Jewish concerns,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which has been pursuing the matter.

Luder, who is also a member of the German Parliament, wrote to the justice minister in September, questioning whether the Topf family claim was valid.

A copy of the letter from the justice minister to Luder, dated Nov. 12, was sent to the WJC and released last week.

In the letter, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger assured the Berlin mayor that “payments will not be granted” if, among other reasons, “the claimant, or whomever from whom the claimant derives his rights,” acted “against the principles of human rights or state rights.”

This, wrote the justice minister, “should be valid concerning Topf and Sons.

“The cremation systems it developed and the crematoriums it built for mass extermination in Auschwitz were a substantive contribution to maintain in force the murder machinery of the extermination camp, since several thousand bodies had to be eliminated every day.

“The claim for compensation will therefore also have to be rejected,” the justice minister wrote.

Steinberg of the WJC said, “We are placing our confidence in the finding of the German justice minister.”

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