Woman asks share of German reparations

Holocaust settlement went to a relative


July 17, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

German war reparations paid to a Columbia couple a half-century after the Holocaust are at the center of a local legal dispute over just who should be the beneficiary of funds paid to right Nazi wrongs.

But during a brief hearing in Howard Circuit Court yesterday, a lawyer for Columbia residents Gunther and Ann Gottfeld argued that the plaintiff in the case, Owings Mills resident Lia Miller, a cousin of the Gottfelds, chose the wrong venue to argue a claim for the cash.

Because the German government researched the reparations claim and decided to award the money - which lawyers said is hundreds of thousands of dollars - only to Gunther Gottfeld, Howard County courts do not have jurisdiction over the matter, said George Huber, the Gottfelds' attorney.

Miller's lawyer, Steven A. Adelman, countered that the lawsuit, which alleges fraud, among other allegations, cites "viable claims" routinely heard in Maryland courts and involves actions alleged to have occurred here.

"Some of the money went right where it should, and maybe some of it didn't, and that's what this case is about," Adelman said after the hearing.

Huber said the amount of reparation money "in dispute" is about $200,000. It is unclear when the Gottfelds received the reparation money or how much was paid in total. Court filings indicate the Gottfelds received two payments.

It was also unclear yesterday when Judge James B. Dudley would rule on the Gottfelds' motion to dismiss the case.

Miller filed a lawsuit against the Gottfelds this year, claiming that Gunther Gottfeld deceived the German government into believing that he was the only heir deserving of reparations.

Gottfeld countered in court documents by saying that he claimed only to be the sole heir of his father, Willi Gottfeld, not of their common relative, Felix Gottfeld - Gunther Gottfeld's grandfather and Miller's great-grandfather. Miller's grandfather, Karl Gottfeld, was Willi Gottfeld's brother, court papers say.

Aware of a contract under which Karl Gottfeld sold his share of the family business to his brother, Willi Gottfeld, German authorities determined that Gunther Gottfeld should receive the reparation money, according to court papers filed by the Gottfelds.

The Gottfeld family, German Jews, had long owned the store in Furstenwalde, and with the Nazis in power in 1935 Karl Gottfeld sold his share to his brother for 15,000 marks and fled to Argentina, according to court papers.

Miller's lawyers say in court filings that the agreement between brothers was made "under duress," so that Karl Gottfeld could leave Nazi-controlled Germany, and "would therefore not be enforceable."

Willi Gottfeld remained in Germany, married, had a son - Gunther - and ran the business until selling it at a loss according to court papers.

Willi Gottfeld, his wife and Gunther took a train out of Germany and later immigrated to the United States, arriving penniless in 1941, Huber said.

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