German Restitution Law
1. Summary of restitution law
Germany's restitution laws ensured the unconditional return of all property (goods and rights) which were taken from persons who had been subjected to discrimination and persecution by the Nazi regime in the period from 30 January 1933 to 8 May 1945. They are based on the regulations issued by the victorious allied powers between 1947 and 1949. All property which had been located in or brought to the territory of the three western zones had to be returned. There was no protection for property which had been purchased in good faith by third parties. Where property had been lost, destroyed or damaged, claims for compensation, also covering loss of use, could be filed under the allied regulations, which were based on the provisions of the German Civil Code (BGB). Title to property which had been confiscated from people who had been subjected to discrimination but who could not claim it back because they had been killed or died or who had not been able to submit their claims for other reasons within the prescribed time-limit was transferred to and pursued by successor organizations established for this purpose.
Claims for compensation or other damages against the German Reich or an equivalent legal entity were covered by the German Reich and Equivalent Legal Entities (Monetary Compensa-tion) Act (BRüG, of 19 July 1957, Federal Law Gazette I, p. 734). Compensation was based on the replacement value as at 1 April 1956 plus interest. Compensation awarded under that law amounted to DM 3.938 billion. In the case of uninherited estate, DM 105,850,000 was paid out in addition under global arrangements with the successor organizations within the framework of the BRüG.
Under the treaties on German unity and related documents, Germany undertook to give equal treatment to persons persecuted by the Nazi regime and residing formerly in the new federal states with regard to their restitution claims, taking account of the time that had passed since 1945 and the resulting circumstances. Claims relating to property taken away on racial, religious or ideological grounds in the period between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 were covered by Section 1 (6) of the Settlement of Property Claims Act (Vermögensgesetz) as printed in the Official Notice of 2 December 1994 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 3610). Where property cannot be restored to its rightful owners on the basis of this law compensation is granted in accordance with the Compensation for Persons subjected to Nazi Persecution Act (NS-VEntschG) of 27 September 1994 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 2624, 2632). Where claims are not asserted by Jewish beneficiaries or their successors, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany - Claims Conference - is recognized as the successor for claims under the Settlement of Property Claims Act.
In addition, claims by American citizens who were deprived of their property by expropriation or in some other way in the territory of the former GDR and East Berlin were settled on the basis of the global compensation agreement concluded with the United States of America on 13 May 1992. The final total amount transferred to the United States was $102,010,961.47. That agreement covers some 1,000 Jewish claimants who acquired American nationality after their expropriation but before the end of 1951.
These comprehensive provisions ensured that all property which had been taken away from its rightful owners in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany was, without exception, returned or compensated for.
2. Statutory time-limits
The time-limits for claims under the restitution laws expired definitively on 23 May 1966. The time-limit for claims under the Law on the settlement of unresolved property issues (concerning the return of assets situated in the former GDR) expired definitively on 31 December 1992, and that relating to movable assets on 30 June 1993. Claims for compensation had to be filed not later than six months after receipt of a notice of non-return.
3. Return after expiry of the statutory time limits
All legal claim to restitution lapsed with expiry of the statutory time-limits. However, in so far as the Federal Republic of Germany has the power of disposition over the assets in question it has hitherto always complied with any substantiated claims for restitution, and will in principle continue to do so. In such cases, any compensation received must of course be repaid.
4. Restitution today
Under Germany's restitution laws all property which had been located in or brought to the territory of the three western zones after 1945 was returned to the previous owners. There was no protection for property which had been purchased in good faith by third parties. Where property had been lost, destroyed or damaged, claims for compensation could be filed under the restitution laws. Where claims could not be made because the persons concerned had died in concentration camps or had not been able to submit their claims for other reasons, they 'passed to successor organizations established for this purpose.