Hitler's 'death court' is converted to luxury flats

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Hitler's judges sentenced more than 1,000 anti-Nazi resistance fighters to death in these very rooms. But now the former Third Reich courthouse, a neo-baroque edifice on an idyllic lake, has reopened as a luxury complex containing some of Berlin's most expensive and opulent apartments.

The conversion of the German capital's former Nazi military court into a "unique" city residence with six-room flats available to rent at more than £3,000 a month, has provoked a storm of criticism from historians and anti-Nazi veterans' organisations.

"Berlin and Germany as a whole are displaying a level of amnesia about the past that is utterly incomprehensible," said Manfred Krause, president of Germany's Legal History Forum, which specialises in researching and exposing Nazi injustices.

The restored court building turned flat complex has been given the name Atrion. It stands on the banks of Berlin's tranquil lawn and tree-fringed Lietzensee lake but is also conveniently close to luxury shopping areas and offices.

The complex, advertised as a collection of "unique apartments in a unique setting", contains huge restored rooms with ornamented widows and sweeping views over the lake. With most of the apartments now rented out, its developers recently announced plans to convert the original Third Reich courtroom into a relaxation area for the Atrion's well-heeled tenants.

Historians point out, however, that from 1936 until the middle of the Second World War, the courtroom served as one of Germany's most notorious theatres of Nazi injustice. During its eight years as a Nazi court, party judges sentenced more than 1,400 resistance fighters and conscientious objectors to their deaths from the building.

The court's most famous victims were the 200 members of the Rote Kapelle student resistance group which distributed anti-Nazi propaganda and saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by hiding them or helping them to escape deportation to the death camps. The group, which was started by a German Luftwaffe officer, warned Moscow of Hitler's plan to invade the Soviet Union. Some 76 Rote Kapelle activists were sentenced to death by the military court. Some were beheaded, others were hung by the neck from meat hooks.

Plans to convert the room where the injustices took place into leisure space for the rich has outraged historians including Johannes Tuchel, the head of Germany's Resistance Memorial Centre, which documents opposition to the Nazi regime. "There were so many death sentences handed down in this courtroom," he said. "It is inconceivable that this place should be turned into a cosy area for relaxation."

The row over Berlin's infamous former military court is the latest in a series of disputes that have dogged the building since 1997, when it ceased to function as a court and was left standing empty. Plans to develop the building as a hotel collapsed three years ago. Attempts to use the complex as a memorial centre for the victims of Nazi rule failed because of a lack of funding.

Despite its history, the German government sold the former court to a Dutch development company which started work on converting the building in 2006. "Another decade standing empty would have caused serious structural damage to the building," a Berlin city government spokesman was quoted as saying yesterday.

Allod Immobilien, the management company which runs Atrion, defended the complex. Thomas Groth, its director, said that most of the new tenants had no reservations about its Nazi past. "Only one potential tenant backed out for that specific reason," he insisted. He also told Berlin's Die Tageszeitung newspaper that the court was used to administer "true justice" before and after the Nazi era.