BERLIN, Jan. 4 (JTA) — Berlin’s Jewish community is threatening to sue the Claims Conference over some $27 million in property values. Community President Albert Meyer said Monday that the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany, the successor organization to unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany, should give profits from unclaimed properties in Berlin to the city’s financially strapped Jewish community. The board of the Jewish community must make the final decision on whether to sue, according to a report in the Berliner Zeitung daily newspaper. Meyer had no further comment on the matter. But a member of the community assembly, Julius Schoeps, told JTA, “Sure it would be a good idea to get the money, but I don’t know whether it’s possible.” “At the moment, the Jewish community needs the money,” added Schoeps, head of the Moses Mendelssohn Center, a Jewish studies institute at the University of Potsdam. Gideon Taylor, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, said the conference and other international organizations for over 50 years have been the successor to the property of those dissolved Jewish communities under Allied and German restitution laws. “Agreements were reached between the Claims Conference and the German Jewish community, as well as the Berlin Jewish community, which provided for numerous properties and funds to be turned over to the relatively small Jewish community which was re-established in Berlin after the war for its activities,” Taylor said. “The Claims Conference uses the remainder of the proceeds from such properties for social welfare projects for needy Holocaust survivors worldwide and for programs of Holocaust education.” The Claims Conference indeed returned several communal properties to the Jewish community in the early 1990s, after the reunification of East and West Germany. But those long-neglected buildings need renovation work that the community cannot afford, Meyer said, adding that income from other buildings the Claims Conference sold could help solve the problem and help cover the cost of absorbing some 8,000 members who have joined the community since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The community, which has absorbed many immigrants from the former Soviet Union in recent years, now numbers about 12,000 people. For some time, Meyer has pressed the Claims Conference to release funds to the Berlin Jewish community, which he said is the legal owner, as the East Berlin community was never dissolved. He said he had hoped for a resolution before the end of 2004, and wrote to the Claims Conference’s president, Rabbi Israel Singer, that he was astonished that the conference rejected opportunities to resolve the conflict up to now. “Don’t destabilize our community by denying us the funds that — at least in the moral sense — belong to Berlin,” Meyer wrote. He also told Moshe Jahoda, the Claims Conference representative in Frankfurt, that small, unclaimed properties should be returned to the community.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.