BERLIN (Reuters) – A Berlin court ruled in favour of the heirs of the Prussian monarchy on Thursday in a dispute with a historian, the latest twist in a legal battle for compensation for treasures taken from the Hohenzollern dynasty after World War Two.
The family, which ruled Germany until Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in 1918, has demanded the return of thousands of paintings, sculptures and books from the German state as well as compensation for the expropriation of property by the Soviet Union whose forces occupied eastern Germany.
The question of the Hohenzollerns’ relationship with Hitler is central to the family’s claims. Under German law, compensation is only possible if the claimant did not significantly assist Nazis’ rise to power.
Some historians argue the role of the Hohenzollern family was insignificant. Others say appearing with Hitler and his associates, including in a famous photo of Hitler with Crown Prince Wilhelm, eldest son of Wilhelm II, in Potsdam in 1933, was helpful and symbolic.
The family says on its website that two reports it commissioned have concluded that the family did not provide significant assistance to the Nazi regime. The family says this would back up their claim for compensation, but it also acknowledges that other reports come to a different conclusion.
As part of a roughly 7-year wrangle with the states of Berlin and Brandenburg and the federal government, Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, who is the great-great grandson of Wilhelm II, has taken legal action against dozens of historians and journalists.
The Berlin regional court upheld a preliminary injunction in a dispute about a statement made by historian Winfried Suess in 2019 as part of a debate about possible plans for a Hohenzollern museum in which returned artefacts would be displayed and whether the family would have a say in their presentation.
Critics say any such move could lead to revisionist interpretations of history.
“The defendant is still prohibited from making the statement that the plaintiff, as the head of an old German noble family, had demanded a say in the historic representation of the family in public institutions,” the court said.
Suess told Spiegel Online after the decision: “If this legal opinion prevails, researchers will have a hard time talking about their work without legal assistance in future.”
Germany’s VHD historians’ association condemned the ruling.
“This ruling could be momentous for academic freedom if statements by historians on the Hohenzollern compensation dispute about obvious facts can no longer be discussed publicly without legal action,” VHD head Eva Schlotheuber told Reuters.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Alison Williams)