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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 12:28 GMT
Holocaust victims 'must claim millions'
Almost 60 years after the end of World War II, Holocaust survivors and their heirs are being urged to reclaim property stolen by the Nazis. One man describes his bid to recover his family's legacy.

In the early 1990s, a Jewish group won the right to reclaim homes, bank balances and businesses taken from tens of thousands of people in what became East Germany.

Many of those who lost everything were killed in the Nazi concentration camps, while the lucky ones fled abroad.

Part of the Berlin Wall is torn down
The reunification of Germany opened the way for new claims

Thousands came to Britain, where those who are still alive, and their descendants, are likely to be unaware that they have a right to have property returned.

The end of March is the deadline for claiming these many millions of pounds worth of assets, before they are used to help Jewish victims of Nazi persecution all around the world.

'A shock'

Last year, the Claims Conference published a full list of some 59,000 names of people and business that might be entitled to compensation.

Daniel Schmidt (not his real name), from north west London, said he was "amazed" when his online search threw up the name of his father, who died when he was just four-years-old.

"It was a shock to say the least," said the 64-year-old, whose parents came to the UK via Holland from a town near Magdeburg in Saxony.

Jewish girl in a concentration camp
Many people may not know they are entitled to any property

His father was a businessman in Germany, but on arriving in England joined the British Army to fight against Hitler's armies. He was killed on active service a year before the war ended.

A complicating factor in Mr Schmidt's search for his family's legacy was the fact that the British Army had forced his father to change his name to something less Germanic.

"Had it not been for the publication of this list, I would have had no idea there could be property I may be entitled to. There are almost certainly other people in the same position," he said.

Even now, Mr Schmidt is not sure whether the man named on the Claims Conference list is actually his father, or someone with the same name.

'Rightful inheritance'

"It is an uncommon name, but not impossible that it is some else," he said. "But if I don't try, I will never know."

The next three weeks represent the final opportunity for the owners and heirs of properties to claim their rightful inheritance
David Rothenberg
Central Office for Holocaust Claims

"If the property exists, it probably comes from my father's father and is likely to be in East Berlin. I have tried to trace my grandfather for many years, but after 1922 I lose all trace of him."

The property being administered by the Conference is situated in the five German states comprising the former GDR: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thuringen as well as the former East Berlin.

Mr Schmidt said he was not expecting a decision on his claim before the end of the year.

David Rothenberg, who heads an umbrella group of Holocaust survivor and refugee organisations, urged people to contact the Conference "as soon as possible".

He added: "The next three weeks represent the final opportunity for the owners and heirs of properties to claim their rightful inheritance".

Advice for anyone who thinks they may be entitled to make a claim is available from the Central Office for Holocaust Claims: claims@ajr.org.uk



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