During the Nazi period, thousands of victims of religious, racial and political persecution were compelled to sell their businesses, houses, and other property under duress. In many cases, property was simply confiscated by the German Reich. On January 5, 1943, the seventeen Allied governments and the French National Committee issued the Inter-Allied Declaration Against Acts of Dispossession Committed in Territories Under Enemy Occupation or Control, 8 Dept. State Bull. 21 (1943), better known as the London Declaration. The measure declared that the allies would no longer recognize the transfer of property in occupied countries even if it appeared legal. The allies were aware that the Nazis were forcing people in occupied countries to sell or transfer their property to them under force. Up until this date the Nazis had painstakingly created the illusion that such transfers were legal.
Restitution in the Occupied Zones
After the war, the Western Allies all agreed to restitute property taken by the various methods of Nazi spoliation. Unfortunately they were unable to agree on a unified law for the three Western Zones of Occupation and for Western Berlin. As a result no fewer than four different statutes dealing with this problem were enacted. In the French Zone, Ordonnance 120 was based on similar legislation passed in France. In the British and American Zones, similar but different laws were enacted, each called Military Government Law No. 59. In Western Berlin the Allied Kommandatura issued an Ordinance, which is nearly identical with the British Zone version of Military Government law No. 59. See E. J. Cohn, The Board of Review: A Novel Chapter in the Relations between Common Law and Civil Law, 4 Int’l & Com. L. Q. 492-507 at 493-4 (1955).
The restitution procedures adopted for the western zones and sectors of Berlin were all basically similar. Those with claims were required to file detailed petitions by a fixed deadline, special agencies were created to mediate the claims, and if settlement failed the action was referred to chambers of the German judicial system, with access to the German appellate courts, and finally to a Court of Restitution Appeals composed initially of allied judges and later changed to a mixed court as German sovereignty was restored. In the French Zone and in Berlin, the Supreme Court was an international court. In the British Zone, the Board of Review was a purely British court until August, 1954. See Benjamin B. Ferencz, Review of Walter Schwartz, Rükerstattung Nach Den Gesetzen Der Alliierten Mäcthe (1974), in 23 Am. J. Comp. L. 374-377 (1975).
U.S. Court of Restitution Appeals
In the American Zone, the U.S. Court of Restitution Appeals began as a purely American court, established by OMGUS Law No. 59 on the Restitution of Identifiable Property. Pursuant to the Paris Convention of October 23, 1954, the United States Court of Restitution Appeals was succeeded by the Supreme Restitution Court Third Division, on August 5, 1955. (See page iv of Volume V of the Reports of the United States Court of Restitution Appeals.) This court was composed of five Justices, including two Americans, two Germans, and a “neutral” — the latter being the President. English and German were the official languages of the Court. The decisions of the Court are drafted either in English or in German and translated into the other language. Each decision contains an introductory statement, indicating which text controls in the particular case. Volumes 6-12 differ from CORA Volumes 1-5 in that the English and German versions of the text were printed on opposite pages in order to facilitate comparison. But the opinions of the Supreme Restitution Court continue the numbering system of the predecessor court, the first opinion being No. 484. Similarly, for reasons of convenience, the numbering system of the later volumes continued that of the predecessor court.
COURT OF RESTITUTION APPEALS REPORTS.
[Nuremberg, Germany]: United States High Commission for Germany.
The Harvard Law School Library has digitized the twelve volumes of opinions and other documents of these two courts. They are available through Harvard Library’s Mirador and ListViews in three aggregations: Volume I, Volumes II-V, and Volumes VI-XII. A detailed table of contents and full text searching is available for each volume in Mirador.