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Germany Passes Restitution Law for Confiscated Jewish Property

June 12, 1957
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The Federal Council, West Germany’s upper house, in a session held here to mark this city’s role as the “legitimate” German capital, has completed parliamentary approval of the modified $357,000,000 Restitution Law dealing with compensation for identifiable Jewish property confiscated by the former German Reich.

The measure came before the Federal Council for final approval in April, but was referred to a conference committee of both houses because a majority of the members took exception to certain provisions of the bill. Now that a number of minor amendments have been incorporated, the bill was passed by majority vote. The Federal Restitution Law will enter into force, once it has been signed by President Theodor Heuss and published in the Federal Gazette, probably next month.

After almost eight years of delay, the West German Federal Republic will now pay compensation for Jewish property “Aryanized” by the German state during the Nazi era, provided the property was located in West Germany or in either sector of Berlia. Also included under the terms of the law are “Aryanization” action by the German state railways, the state postal system and by the former Prussian state, but not “Aryanization” by other German states, municipalities, corporations or individuals.

Excluded from the scope of the law are Jewish belongings seized in East Germany, the Saar, areas now under Polish or Soviet administration and in the countries overrun by Nazi Germany. “Aryanization” transactions whose beneficiary was not the German state remain unaffected by the new law, because they are covered by restitution legislation which the Western Allies imposed many years ago and which compels the return of formerly Jewish-owned real estate, businesses, furniture, stocks and bonds, art objects, etc. That program is nearly completed.

The German Federal Republic, on the other hand, has hitherto failed to restitute the Jewish possessions expropriated by its predecessor, the German Reich, and has paid no compensation therefore, although it assumed title to all assets of the former Reich. Until today the thousands of Jews who obtained court judgments “against the German Reich” have in effect been unable to collect.

ALL PAYMENTS TO BE COMPLETED BEFORE 1963; SOME DUE IN 1959

The new Restitution Law also applies to furniture or luggage shipped abroad by emigrants from Germany and, due to the German invasion of neighboring countries, later intercepted en route. Machinery, works of art seized in non-German countries by organs of the German state fall under the law if it can be shown that the looted objects were brought to Germany itself. A significant portion of the claims will deal with securities confiscated during the war, or else “sold” by the Jews of Germany and Austria to pay the billion-mark “fine” exacted the Hitler Government in November 1938, after the Paris assassination of German Embassy attache Vom Rath. The jewelry, silver and gold that had to be delivered up for almost nothing at the same time is, as a rule, within the scope of the new law.

The law stipulates that all payments shall be completed before 1963. Amounts up to $4, 750 are due by the spring of 1959. On claims running into higher figures, half the sum is payable before 1961. The second half of these larger claims will be scaled down proportionately in such a way that the total expenditure for the West German treasury does not exceed $357,000,000, the level to which the Federal Republic has limited its overall liability. Within the scope of this commitment, the Jewish successor organizations are entitled to submit claims based on the confiscation of property for which no owners or heirs have survived.

If a claimant is ineligible under the provisions of the new law because of technical reasons, and if his property was located in West Germany or West Berlin, he may address himself to a “Hardship Fund.” To provide the requisite minimum means for its work, the Bundestag Indemnification Committee has written into the law a clause adding a few million dollars to the obligations which the Federal Republic was willing to assume.

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