November 27, 2014

German courts rule Prym Mercedes 500 K Roadster belongs to heirs

A very rare 1935 Mercedes 500 K Roadster owned by Dutch collector Frans van Haren has been declared the property of the heirs of the car’s first owners.

1935 Mercedes 500 K Roadster

When Frans van Haren, a Dutch car collector, bought a rare 1935 Mercedes 500 K Roadster at RM Auctions Montery sale last year he knew there was no declared history prior to 1970. Even so, he paid almost $4 million for the car.

But the 500 K had spent most of its life in America after being brought back from Germany in 1945 amidst the chaos at the end of WWII, so there was probably no reason to believe the 500 K wasn’t a ‘safe’ buy. But it appears it wasn’t.

Last month van Haren made the fateful decision to show his new pride and joy at the Techno Classica car show in Essen where it was promptly seized by the authorities over claims by the original owner’s heirs. And now, bizarrely , the German courts have ruled that the 500 K belongs to the heirs of German Industrialist Hans Friedrich Prym.

The Mercedes was ‘acquired’, as many German possessions were, in the confusion at the end of WWII and after Prym had been imprisoned by the allies for his part in the German war effort. ‘Spoils of War’ is perhaps not a legal term, but compared to the pillaging of Europe by the Germans from 1939-1945 the acquisition of  chattels from a defeated monster state and its servants seems very small recompense.

How German courts believe they have jurisdiction to make this ruling defies belief. However, if the Germans now believe their citizens are rightfully due the return of property taken after WWII then the other side of that is the acceptance of the need to realistically recompense those damaged by the Nazi war machine.

The allies, very sensibly, decided that the last thing Germany needed after WWII was to spend generations paying for the damage they had done. After all, the reparations burden on the Weimar after WWI was what caused the rise of the Nazi party and, ultimately, WWII.

So although notional recompense was put in place even that was effectively set aside by the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which is one of the reasons Germany is now the economic powerhouse it is. But surely, if Germany now believes it has the right to recover property taken after WWII, it must also accept the other side of that coin and pay for what it took from European citizens and nations?

Which should please the Greeks. It’s reckoned Germany owes $95 billion for the damage they did to Greece, which would sort out a few Hellenic bills.

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  1. tom Lupus says:

    You’re mixing up Germany and Hans Friedrich Prym just like you are mixing up the United States and that GI who took “compensation” on a very individual level. Looting is illegal, no matter whether it’s done by Germans, Russians or US troops.

  2. mark powell says:

    If the german courts want to play this type of game, they have to understand what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. The germans cannot have it all their own way, Angela merkal should know that and the world is watching……If greece is owed the money from WWII then germany should honour their side of the bargain and write off the debt.They start a war, they lose the war, their country smashed to oblivion, america and britain rebuild germany’s economy, now they are the economic powerhouse of europe, they want it all their own way, greed isnt the word that springs to my mind, I hope im wrong in writing this, Is germany a country that wont be trusted in this generation again after showing their hand, what does the united europe mean, if in time like these they are not united included france…..

    • Johan van Stappen says:

      Dear editorialist,
      After a most atroceous war, which had doubtlessly been inflinged upon the world by the inhuman Nazi regime, it is very understandable that looting took place. But it is nonetheless not justifiable to take individual property from the civilian population. Of course, an International Court under the rule of the United Nations can eventually decide about a repay of war damages & debts by the nation which caused the war, but this indeed already once proved to have adverse effects. At the time his car was stolen, Prym was under US custody, but had not been convicted. As far as I know, he has not been convicted at all. If such had taken place, then of course, his goods might have been declared property of the US as part of a war debt repay. The way things actually occured however, this was just plain looting.

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