Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth III slept with two Luger pistols as he colluded to kill Adolf Hitler near the end of World War II.

Riding on horseback into the woods of his 17,000-hectare estate in eastern Germany, the anti-Nazi aristocrat hosted secret meetings to discuss the assassination plot, which was codenamed Operation Valkyrie.

The plan failed, with the German dictator walking away with only a burst eardrum and shredded clothes from the blast of a bomb that one of the conspirators had placed in a briefcase beneath an oak conference table. Though spared a death sentence, Solms-Baruth was imprisoned, tortured and eventually lost control of the land his family had owned for centuries.

Today, on Operation Valkyrie’s 75th anniversary, the timing of that land transfer has become the focus of a two-decade legal battle between the German government and Solms-Baruth’s descendants as they seek to reclaim the property. His namesake grandson has new evidence -- a chemical analysis of ink on paperwork related to the estate -- that he claims is proof the Nazi regime forced Solms-Baruth to sign over the land.

“I was brought up as a child with the aim and instruction by my father this litigation is what we should do if Germany ever reunified,” said the fifth and current Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth, 55. “He never thought he would ever see the day, and when he did he started litigation right away.”

While confiscations by the Nazis were generally overturned after 1989, the German unification treaty holds that seizures during the period immediately after the war remain unaffected. Solms-Baruth V claims the ink used on instructions to destroy any paperwork relating to his family’s estate predates that period.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, which is hearing the case, declined to comment on pending litigation, while the finance ministry didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

Postwar Split
The case underscores how Germany is still grappling with the fallout from the rise of Hitler, whose downfall led to the country’s postwar split and the creation of East Germany as a satellite of the Soviet Union. Since the end of the war, the state has paid out more than 2 billion euros ($2.24 billion) to Nazi victims who lost property in former East Germany, government data show, and that may climb if others follow the lead of the Solms-Baruths.

“The figures could be astronomical,” Solms-Baruth V said. “By now, it’s become much larger than vindicating my grandfather and not letting them get away with it in the case of our family.”

Aristocratic dynasties like the Solms-Baruths can pass down the titles they held in Germany’s monarchic age. Prince Friedrich V traces his clan’s origins back more than 500 years and counts the U.K.’s Duke of Edinburgh -- the husband of Queen Elizabeth II -- among his distant relations.

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