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U.S. Court Throws Out Nazi-Era Damages Claim

Descendents of the German-Jewish retail dynasty Wertheim failed to convince a district court in New Jersey that their bid to seek damages for assets seized by the Nazis fell under American legal jurisdiction. The court accepted the motion put forth by German retailer and defendant KarstadtQuelle to dismiss the case because it did not fall under the court's auspices, the company which now owns some of the family's assets said in a statement Monday. "The difficulty with the plaintiff's argument is that none of Karstadt's subsidiaries are themselves doing business in New York," U.S. district judge William G. Bassler wrote in his dismissal. "The assertion of jurisdiction... would seriously trespass on the sovereignty of Germany and the integrity of its own legal system," he said while adding that evidence suggested the Wertheim family had indeed been defrauded during the Nazi-era.

The U.S. case had been filed by the daughter and grandson of Günther Wortham (previously Wertheim), who owned a chain of department stores in Berlin. In 1938 the family was forced to sell all its shares to a non-Jewish consortium. The Wertheim descendents, who now live in the United States, alleged the original founders were defrauded of their post-war restitution claims when the Wertheim stores were sold to the Hertie chain in 1951 and then again when Karstadt bought Hertie and its Wertheim subsidiary in 1994. They are seeking at least $150 million in damages from Karstadt and have said they will file an appeal and pursue the case in German courts.

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