Published On: Sun, Nov 3rd, 2019

WW2: German aristocrat whose grandfather was in plot to kill Hitler wants estate returned


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Heir has demanded return of vast estate nazis took from prince in plot to kill Hitler (Image: Frederick Solms-Baruth)

Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth was involved in a doomed plot to overthrow the Fuhrer, Operation Valkyrie, made famous in the Tom Cruise film of the same name. His grandson, Prince Friedrich V, has been waging a legal battle against the German government and says that the family estate was taken by Himmler after the plot failed. For 30 years German courts have insisted the lands were confiscated after 1945 by East Germany, for which there is no restitution.

And in September judges in Leipzig again upheld the view. This time, however, they ignored “incontrovertible proof” the lands were stolen by the Nazi regime – including ink analysis showing key documents were written by Nazis. 

Friedrich also claims his family’s role in the plot and link to the estate has been airbrushed out of history in the town of Baruth, 30 miles south of Berlin. Prince Friedrich III was already on the Gestapo’s watchlist before inviting Valkyrie members to his castle where he agreed to help Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the one-eyed and one-armed aristocrat who led the assassination plot. 

Killing the Fuhrer was vital because soldiers of the Third Reich swore their oaths of allegiances in his name. 

The plot – turned into a 2008 Hollywood blockbuster – failed. On July 20, 1944 von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in a suitcase under a table in Hitler’s headquarters, the “wolf’s lair”, in what is now Poland. The bomb exploded but Hitler escaped with little more than a burst eardrum. 

Most conspirators were rounded up and executed, including von Stauffenberg, who faced a firing squad the following day. 

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Frederick Solms-Baruth poses at his hotel in London (Image: Frederick Solms-Baruth)

Others were tortured and interrogated in the dungeons of Prinz Albrecht Strasse prison then strung up with piano wire. 

As Himmler’s personal prisoner, Prince Friedrich was only spared that fate because of his royal heritage. 

Relatives included Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alice, as well as members of the Swedish and Danish royal families, and killing him may have deprived Hitler’s SS chief of his chance to pursue secret peace negotiations. 

Since German reunification the family has argued that it was while a prisoner, who was tortured, that the noble was forced to hand over his estates to Himmler. 

With the deeds missing, German authorities preferred the explanation that they had been confiscated by the East Germans in communist land reforms. That would mean they were not liable for restitution. 

But earlier this year Prince Friedrich V made two astonishing discoveries. 

The first was an internal document written in 1942 by Himmler outlining how mandarins could secretly confiscate the lands of political prisoners and erase all traces so as not to be seen to be breaking Nazi law. Bureaucrats would painstakingly remove all traces with razor blades. 

The second was a handwritten note referring directly to the destruction of the deeds to Solms-Baruth’s estates. 

More astonishing, the documents were part of what he calls a “deliberately misfiled” archive containing 10,000 similar claims that the German state had seemingly decided to brush under the carpet. 

“We uncovered a major cover-up by chance,” says Prince Friedrich. “We got a tip-off by someone in one of the archives that there was a restitution archive, which was in the possession of the state. We were able to get into it and found at least 10,000 similar potential claims. 

Our file ought to have been handed to the court. This was not done despite the fact that the court was told all archives had been searched and nothing more was to be found. They sat on it for 30 years. We were hoodwinked. 

The real scandal was that this case file contained instructions to destroy all deeds pertaining to his properties. We snuck in a chemical ink analysis expert who took samples of this file and established from chemicals used that the ink used to write the destruction instructions was manufactured before May 1945. 

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Prince Frederick in his WWI Field Uniform (Image: Frederick Solms-Baruth)

“This gave us incontrovertible proof that the Nazis had taken possession of the property before East Germany even existed. We’d been told all this time that, since we could not prove that the properties weren’t taken by Nazis, these instructions had been issued by the East Germans during Land Reform. 

“Now, by their own criteria, we have proven that it was the Nazis who confiscated our property. 

“My grandfather was forced to sign them over under torture. Yet when we presented these facts they simply said it was irrelevant.” 

He said one factor in the unfair judgment was the continuing allegiance in what was East Germany to Soviet and communist ideology. 

“The town of Baruth is trying to eradicate a big part of history. If you go on to the town’s website, my family’s history of more than 500 years, including building its church and contributing greatly to its culture and community, has been completely written out. 

“The mayor and those in power are tied to former East German ideology which, of course, grants the Soviet Union all credit for defeating Hitler. Mrs Merkel officially commemorated the 75th anniversary of the July 20 plot, but they don’t want to accept it even took place.” But he has pledged to continue to fight for justice. 

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Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alice (Image: Frederick Solms-Baruth)

“We have been the victims of gross and malign obscuration at best. At worst we’re dealing with a cover-up of this by German courts in the old East Germany. 

“I’m now forced to take this to the Constitutional court, which will be terribly expensive and complicated. 

“This is the sinister aspect of the whole thing and completely scandalous. 

“It couldn’t be worse in a country where one is supposed to feel protected by rule 
of law.” 

He added: “Clearly, it is their hope to run one out of steam. They hope I will give up, or might not make it there. 

“But we’ve been fighting this battle for 30 years, and we continue to bear the cost out of principle of righting the wrong my grandfather suffered. 

“He didn’t live to see justice done, my father didn’t live to see justice done. If I don’t live to see justice done someone else will take over…” 

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While Germany has paid billions in Nazi restitution, there is a history of obstruction in many cases. 

In 2012 a £1billion trove of 1,500 works of Old Masters, Impressionist and Cubist paintings by the likes of Monet, Cézanne, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec was found in a Munich flat belonging to the sister of art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt. 

Many had been stolen from Jewish owners by their father on Hitler’s orders. But the government ignored pleas by decendants of Holocaust survivors with proof of ownership, saying the statute of limitations had expired. The Gurlitts eventually returned some paintings to their rightful owners. 

The fate of 40 medieval and golden artworks of the Guelph Treasure still hangs in the balance after Germany insisted its Jewish owners had not been forced to sell them at a considerable loss to the Nazi government in 1935. 

And in a six-year battle to reclaim their Berlin building, Dina Gold was asked to provide death certificates for her grandparents who were Auschwitz victims. She was awarded £8million. 



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