By on May 31, 2012

Dutch classic car collector Frans van Haren paid $3.8 million for a 77 year old Mercedes 500K Spezial Roadster. The regrets came when he tried to sell the rare car of which only 58 were built. When the car was offered for sale at last year’s Techno Classica car show in Essen, Germany, the car was impounded. Van Haren can kiss the car good-bye. A German court ruled that the car goes back to the estate of its erstwhile German owner.

According to Bloomberg, the car was stolen by U.S. soldiers at the end of World War II. Hans Prym, the owner of a manufacturer of clothing fasteners that earned him the title of “Zipper King” kept the car in Stolberg, close to the Belgian border. U.S. troops quartered at Prym’s Waldfriede estate absconded with the car. A court in Hamburg ruled that the soldiers had no title to the car, and that Prym’s grandchildren have a valid claim to the Mercedes.

The court said that the statute of limitations has not expired. The 30-year period under German law is only applicable for the time the car has been in Germany.

Lawyers of the heirs will now file suit for the car’s return.

 

 

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

49 Comments on “German Court Impounds $3.8 Million Car That Was Stolen By American Soldiers...”


  • avatar
    multicam

    Hands up if you thought this was stolen, like, yesterday

  • avatar
    twotone

    To the victors belong the spoils. Same rules apply to stolen artwork, real estate, etc. The Germans stole it from the French, Russians from the Germans and British from Egypt. If there is any question regarding ownership, don’t take it back to the country in question. His mistake — taking it back to Germany and not selling it here in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      Agreed. US or Asia.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      One could argue the American soldiers ‘paid for’ the car by freeing Germany from the grip of National Socialism. Are we to expect every souvenir brought back by Allied soldiers is stolen property, with a legitimate claim by its former owners’ estates?

      We see the same thing happening with national borders. The UN has basically outlawed the ability to expand one’s borders through war, which was commonplace until the 20th century. Most borders today were established either at the end of WW1 or WW2, or are the result of reunification efforts with very little net changes, or are a return to pre-Soviet tribal nation-states.

      I feel sorry for Mr. Prym, but sorrier for Mr. van Haren.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Guns, uniforms, flags and the like belonged to the Nazi government, which no longer exists. In that case, I have no problem with it. How can you justify stealing stuff from private citizens? Even if the previous owner was a Nazi sympathizer, he was still entitled to due process. After all, the entire point of WWII was that violation of basic human rights by despotic governments was unacceptable ….due process being one of those rights. To sum up, two wrongs don’t make a right.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        “After all, the entire point of WWII was that violation of basic human rights by despotic governments was unacceptable ….due process being one of those rights.”

        @skor: You make a good point about the distinction between personal and public/government property.

    • 0 avatar
      elwesingollo

      I believed that that was a war to free a country not to conquer and plunder.

  • avatar

    Good to hear that the German courts are doing what they can to return property stolen during WW2 to its rightful owners.

    • 0 avatar
      Francois

      Yeah…well, we’ll take them seriously once they start returning pilfered jewelry and property to the families of the Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc that those goose stepping monsters murdered.

      • 0 avatar
        element92

        the property is being returned as quickly as possible, the issue is that heirs need identification and proof of ownership and inheritance to access the items, otherwise any one could roll on up claiming they had millions stolen during the war. the NAZI purges of identity have caused huge bureaucratic issues…stuff needs to be returned to the correct owners

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      I wish there was a like button. That was some wickedly sharp sarcasm. I think I’m bleeding.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        I thought it was quite a poor attempt at sarcasm. The Nazi regime did indeed unethically appropriate enourmous quanitites of national and personal chatels from those they subjugated during WW2. However at the end of proceedings the German nation was rather effectively asset-stripped as it were. German industy, technology and even personnel were simply confiscated holus-bolus where it was considered of value to the victors. Moreover the financial reparations such as those negotiated by Adenauer and Sharett were and in some cases continue to be rather substantial and more importantly were intended to compensate for loss of property and life.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        What was poor about the attempt? I’m not even sure it can be called an attempt. Karesh’s comment belongs in the Encyclopedia as the very epitome of sarcasm. Brilliant!

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        So you are saying that German Reparations are insufficient? That seems to be what Karesh is implying.

        When it comes to returning private property to rightful owners where it was stolen during WW2, unfortunately that in the most part falls outside of the jurisdiction of a German court.

        The role of a court is to judge on matters brought before them. It is not a crusade to find stolen artifacts and re-unite them with their owners. If the German court happened to hear a case that Herr X has the property of Herr Y and obtained it unlawfully during WW2 then no doubt they would hear the matter impartially (subject to a ruling on limitation of course)but they would not make it their business to go out investigating for such cases. That is the task of agencies such as the Police, Customs and Excise, and the like.

        To imply that Germans and their Executive, Judiciary and Legislature are ambivalent to the events of WW2 and the actions of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party Government in general is quite wrong and unfair. Therefore I believe it to be a particularly poor attempt at sarcasm.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Loved that comment!

    • 0 avatar

      @Michael Karesh:
      The Austrians are also quite good in returning stolen property (it’s only arts, no cars): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Adele_Bloch-Bauer_I

      • 0 avatar
        DaveDFW

        The Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait plays a substantial role in “The Rape of Europa,” an interesting book and documentary for anyone interested in the massive scale of organized art theft that occurred during WW2.

        Of course, the types of theft described generally don’t involve *returning* anything to Germany.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    Maybe the Pryms could reimburse him for the restoration work done. I mean- look at the car- I’m sure it’s been restored from bumper to bumper.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    No comment on the laws or proper ownership.

    However, that is most certainly a beautiful automobile.

    Somewhere, Mercedes lost the bubble.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Depending on the representations made by the auction house and/or the previous owner, I think they might be where the buck ends on this. Presumably they were representing that they had full ownership interest in the vehicle, which they apparently did not.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I wonder if they (the court) will rule differently if the Mercedes was owned by a Jewish family?

    • 0 avatar
      vwbora25

      @mrwhopee very ironic, do you know the story on how mercedes got its name? it involves the granddaughter of a jewish rabi

    • 0 avatar
      Synchromesh

      If it was owned by the Jewish family, that family would quietly disappear among a few men dressed in black uniforms with interesting-looking insignia. Just the way they used to do it back in the good old days.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      At the end of the war Germany paid substantial reparations, including to the government of Israel….which did not exist during the war. Part of the reparations agreement amounts to a “payment in full” clause….after reparations were accepted by the respective countries which were victims of Nazi aggression, individuals, with a few exceptions, can not make claims on behalf of themselves.

  • avatar
    KrisZ

    They obviously did not run a carfax report…

  • avatar
    racingmaniac

    I guess the statue of limitation for the stuff that the European “stole” from China during the end of the Qing dynasty has long expired…though I supposed they won’t bring them to China for exhibition neither…

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “I guess the statue of limitation for the stuff that the European “stole” from China during the end of the Qing dynasty has long expired…”

    Ditto for
    … the Elgin Marbles
    … Moctezuma’s gold mask
    … Egyptian obelisks gracing several European capitals

    The list goes on.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    Thank God I saw this before I was going to take my Honda 50 I stole in Saigon back to ‘Nam.

  • avatar
    E30-LS1

    Too bad they didn’t just buy it for a couple hundred bucks, like my neighbor did: As a captain in the army in 1945, he bought a 1938 BMW 328 for $90 and brought it home. Light cream white, inline 6 with 3 Solex carbs. Probably worth many 100’s of K$ now.

    • 0 avatar

      The 328 was apparently designed by Kurt Joachimson, who was more or less erased from the official histories. Jonny Lieberman told me that after writing about it, Joachimson’s son in Israel contacted him and told him that the family had no idea that his father had designed such an iconic car. They knew he worked for BMW but didn’t know he designed the 315 and 328.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        That’s interesting and I’ve heard about Joachimson’s involvement before – however I’ve yet to see any compelling evidence that it was he and not Szymanowski and Meyerhuber who designed the 315/28.

        Not that it really matters anyway since race, gender, religion are irrelevant to a person’s ability to design a beautiful car.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    This German industrialist was of the same generation that made possible the systematic extermination of 12,000,000 innocents. Assuming that this “industrialist” supported the war effort, nobody owes him (and, thus his heirs) anything from that time, nothing was stolen from him. To think that he can retroactively gift this to his heirs is screwy.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Wow, the same generation? So If somebody steals your s**t in your house, you shouldn’t get it back ’cause you where part of the generation that supported the sanctions against Iraq that caused enormous suffering for Iraqi children? I mean you probably paid taxes and all. Hans was Never a member of the party, the company he owned manufactured material for the arms industry, but companies tends to do that in war time.

      • 0 avatar
        jeoff

        Ignoring the fact that sanctions against a foreign country are completely different than putting together gas chambers to exterminate citizens of your own country because they belong to a different ethnic group—wait —nope can’t ignore that fact. But, if you really want to try your best to make up an American equivalent of the situation: If an American Indian stole a valuable saddle from a cavalryman while the cavalryman rounding up his people during the “The Trail of Tears,” and cavalryman’s heirs tried to claim that saddle today, I would say his heirs were nuts too.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      doing a wiki search, he was never a party member.

      The company was started in the 1800s. What where they supposed to do? No was not an answer. Using your logic GM is guilty of NAZI war crimes via Opel. Bad things were happening prior to Dec 7, 1941 with GM still in control.

      Post WWII, they lost property in East Germany.

      Using your logic, any company that sold a product to the US military
      in the 60s is guilty of war crimes.

      • 0 avatar

        This simply shows the dangers of living under the rule of bastards you didn’t vote for, among idiots, who would not care, at the wrong place at the wrong time, having something that’s worth to loot.

  • avatar
    50merc

    The court’s decision was correct. Disliking some person, some group or some nation does not grant a license to steal their stuff.

  • avatar
    ajla

    What will the last surviving member of the Flying Hellfish get now?

  • avatar
    DaveDFW

    The RM Auction notes state: “Its interim history is unknown at this time, but when it turned up in the collection of pioneer collector Russell Strauch in the 1970s…”

    Because many valuable objects “disappeared” in Europe during WW2, a prospective buyer should exercise due diligence before purchasing. I would think a savvy buyer would be on special alert when the prior seller disclosed that at least thirty years of the car’s history was unknown.

    Ignoring the ethical considerations of buying something that might have been stolen, it seems especially ill-advised to have returned the car to Germany.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The European nations are knocking on hell’s door. They’ll grab for everything on their way down, just as our government will be doing in a few years. They call it the European Stability Mechanism.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    You know- when you buy a house for a measly $400k, they make it mandatory for you to buy title insurance. So how come nobody buys title insurance in the case of a $3.8 million purchase?

    • 0 avatar
      DaveDFW

      Title insurance is generally a requirement for mortgage approval; it only exists to protect the lender’s investment. If a buyer is paying with his own money, there is no requirement for any kind of insurance.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    I think the question I have is this. How do we know that US soldiers stole the vehicle?

    And how did it get titled after it was stolen?

    There are a lot of questions I have here. Lastly didn’t the people who are claiming to own legitimately own it know about the car and make the previous owner aware of it,.. ie asking for it back, perhaps striking a deal at a much reduced value?

    The German courts ruling of the 30 year statute of limitations certainly seems very flimsy also. WWII sure makes people strange even today.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Shoulda sold it on Craigslist.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Good to know. If I ever drive my Land Cruiser to Afghanistan I’ll be sure to take off the centercap in the left rear wheel that I stole from a disabled cruiser.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States