Nazi-Era Land Dispute Reaches Settlement Lake in the Hills Man and Family to Get Millions as Heirs to German Company

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Nazi-Era Land Dispute Reaches Settlement Lake in the Hills Man and Family to Get Millions as Heirs to German Company


Byline: Staff and wire reports

A Lake in the Hills man and his family will be paid $117.2 million for a plot of land in the heart of Berlin that was stolen from their ancestors during the Nazi era.

Martin Wortham, who has lived in Lake in the Hills for about 12 years, is one of the main heirs of a popular department store that existed before Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.

The German retailing giant KarstadtQuelle AG agreed to pay the family the money Friday, resolving one of the city's longest- running World War II-era compensation disputes.

As Jews, the Wertheim family, which owned the store, lost the property during the Nazi era, and Hitler used some of the Berlin land for his chancellery and downtown bunker complex.

In 2001, the Jewish Claims Conference, which seeks restitution for property stolen in the Nazi era, was awarded the bustling property. But KarstadtQuelle appealed, claiming a right to the real estate.

KarstadtQuelle, which first obtained the land in 1993, dropped claims to the properties in 2005.

Wortham said in an interview then that he was happy with the progress the long legal battle was making.

"This is a big step in a long journey that we've been on for a while," said Wortham, whose grandfather escaped to the United States during the Holocaust. "Of course, sometimes the wheels of justice move slowly."

Under last week's agreement, KarstadtQuelle also will retract competing claims it had with heirs of the Wertheim family on 50 other properties throughout Berlin and its surrounding state of Brandenburg, clearing the way for those plots to be restituted.

"It was our interest to do justice to our responsibility in terms of history," KarstadtQuelle chief executive Thomas Middelhoff said in a statement announcing the deal. …

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