The German government has formally returned four pieces of property in Berlin to the city’s Jewish community.
“This is yet another step toward the consolidation of Jewish life in this city,” said Jerzy Kanal, chairman of Berlin’s 10,000-strong Jewish community.
Kanal received the deeds to the four pieces of property from Berlin Finance Senator Elmar Pieroth during a ceremony earlier this month at Berlin’s gold- domed New Synagogue.
The New Synagogue, whose restoration was completed in time for the May 7 ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, sits on one of the parcels of land returned to the Jewish community.
All the returned land parcels are located in the Jewish section of Berlin.
Kanal said the Jewish community had not pressed for the return of the property sooner because it was aware that other more pressing cases of former Jewish property were before the real estate authorities.
Sorting out property owned by Jews who used to live in Berlin but fled the Nazis in the 1930s has been a difficult and complicated task, said Berlin authorities, who rejected criticisms that they have worked too slowly on returning Jewish real estate to their rightful owners.
They note that there are 33,249 petitions with the German government claiming Berlin property that was confiscated during the Third Reich.
By the end of July, authorities had completed work on 6,460 of the petitions, they said. Of those, 1,000 property owners or their heirs had their real estate returned.
Alexander Schnurbusch, director of the office that is handling the property- return claims, said that typically, there are five claims for every piece of property in Berlin’s Jewish district, which is the most disputed part of town.
He noted that there are many problems in returning property to their rightful Jewish owners.
Many original owners are dead and their heirs are often located all over the world, Schnurbusch said.
Another problem was proof of ownership, he added.
He also noted that after the Communist takeover of East Germany after the war, many land parcels were redrawn, so that a piece of property owned by a Jewish resident in the 1930s may have been subdivided into other parcels.