The prince, 50, says his grandfather was imprisoned, tortured and forced by the Gestapo to sign a legal declaration ultimately handing over control to his land to Heinrich Himmler. Despite the circumstances in which the document was signed its legal standing is accepted by officials today and treated like “a document signed today in a lawyer’s office”.
He said: “They are saying well the wording in this document is okay, he signed it, so what’s the problem?
“If my grandfather hadn’t signed they would have murdered his entire family, so there was no option.”
The July 20 plot involved a series of high ranking Germany army officers, including Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was played by Cruise in Valkyrie. Prince Friedrich III hosted meetings of the conspirators on his estates.
On July 20 1944 Stauffenberg planted a bomb in a suitcase under a table in Hitler’s headquarters, known as the “wolf’s lair”, in what is now Poland. The bomb exploded, but Hitler escaped with little more than a burst eardrum.
Stauffenberg and about 5,000 other people were executed in the following days. Prince Friedrich believes his grandfather was kept alive by chance – because he was the uncle of the Swedish crown princess and Himmler was attempting to negotiate a truce with the Allies with the help of Sweden’s royal family.
He says that his father fought for the land and property from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 until his death in 2006. The family bought back Castle Baruth, its seat in the state of Brandenburg in eastern Germany, shortly after the wall came down.
In 2003 the family reached a settlement with German authorities to reclaim a large part of his grandfather’s estate.
Now Prince Friedrich is fighting to win back the remaining properties and land, which he says amounts to up to around 19,000 acres. The estate mainly comprises forestry and includes two manor houses currently under the ownership of local authorities.
The estate falls within the remit of two separate local authorities within Brandenburg – Cottbus and Potsdam, just outside Berlin.
Last month at a hearing at an administrative court in Cottbus, Prince Friedrich was told that evidence about the prince’s grandfather including expert testimony from Antony Beevor, the Second World War historian, would not be admitted because it was for the court to judge the historical circumstances of the case.
Last week the court rejected the claim. The prince said he had expected the result because the court refused to accept “any of the evidence we submitted.”
Separately Prince Friedrich’s claim in Potsdam was rejected by the county’s administrative court, which ruled that his grandfather had handed over control of his estate in a legal transaction and denied that he was a victim of Nazi persecution. Instead it said that the measures taken against his grandfather, including imprisonment, were simply of an “investigative nature”.
He has now lodged an appeal at Germany’s federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe.
Meanwhile, Natascha Engel, a German-born MP who chairs the backbench business committee, has written to Lord Astor, the defence minister, asking if he can aid the prince’s efforts.
Lord Goldsmith also urged the Foreign Office to provide “every assistance possible” to help locate evidence which might satisfy the court and “help settle this case once and for all.”
Prince Friedrich said: “What is being done here flies in the face of the constitution – not [allowing us] to present evidence and disregarding the historical circumstances blatantly. We have protested that we have been denied a fair hearing, which is the minimum we can say.
“We are confident the judges at the constitutional court will have the wisdom to recognise this and correct the mistakes made by the lower courts. If not, Germany will – after 70 years – still not have learnt the lessons from its troubled past.”
The claims are being defended in court by the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues. A spokesman declined to comment.