Pensioner faces £373,000 bill over property row

By Simon Rocker, February 13, 2014
The Berlin building at the centre of the dispute

The Berlin building at the centre of the dispute

A British pensioner says she is a facing a huge legal bill as a result of an action brought against her in Germany by the Claims Conference, the international Holocaust restitution body.

Ursula Cox, 82, a retired nurse from Nuneaton, says she and her brother have been ordered by a German court to pay the conference 450,000 euros (around £373,000) in a dispute over a Berlin property once owned by their father.

“Neither my brother nor I have the means to meet these demands,” Mrs Cox said. “We are being punished by German legislation and the demands of the Claims Conference. After 75 years, we are still feeling the after-effects of the Nazi regime.”

Their father, Ernst Ruhemann, was a doctor of Jewish origin who converted to Christianity while serving in the Germany army during the First World War; his wife Hildegard was not Jewish.

Mrs Cox explained that her father had bought the building, 22 Korsoerer Strasse, Berlin, in the mid-1930s from a Jewish family, “enabling them to flee from the Nazi dictatorship.

“Because at that time many properties were on the market, the house was undervalued by 20 per cent. My father bought it to provide for his young family.

“His professional career was reduced to treating only Jewish people and he was forced to flee Germany in 1938.”

He died in Britain in 1953, she said, “having suffered first from his refugee status and then from being interned as an enemy alien.”

She said the property and the rents from it was lost to the family when the Berlin wall was built.

“When the wall came down, the property was returned to the family and my brother’s name and my name were entered in the property register.

Ursula Cox

Ursula Cox

“However, the way a law was drafted in Germany entitles the Claims Conference to acquire properties previously owned by Jewish owners, irrespective of the fate the purchaser had suffered.”

The Claims Conference lodged a claim for the building and the property was transferred to it in 2009.

According to Mrs Cox, the value of the property had doubled to around 950,000 euros (£788,500) because of maintenance carried out by her brother Heinrich Ruhemann, who is now 85.

But the Claims Conference, she said, had also sought the rents earned from the house by Mr Ruhemann since 1994. As Mrs Cox is still registered as a co-owner, she bears joint liability.

In 2012, the conference obtained a judgment against them and last week Mrs Cox and her brother lost an appeal.

“The presiding judge said that all had been done legally, but it was not justice,” Mrs Cox said.

A spokesman for the Claims Conference would not comment beyond saying that it was “appropriate that we work through these issues directly with the family”.

In a statement last year, the organisation explained its position. “The property was sold in 1936 by a Jewish family to a non-Jewish owner. Under the German Property Law of 1990, the Claims Conference is entitled to recover the property in the absence of any claims filed prior to December 31, 1992 from heirs to the Jewish family that sold the property. No such claims were filed.”

Last updated: 5:45pm, February 13 2014