BERLIN – A German court has rejected a demand for the return of thousands of hectares of land to the family of an anti-Nazi aristocrat who was tortured by the Gestapo and stripped of all his property as punishment for taking part in the abortive World War II plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth was one of a handful of German aristocrats who took part in the failed attempt to blow up the Nazi leader on July 20, 1944.

The Gestapo arrested him the next day and forced him to sign a legal contract handing over 7000ha of family estates and castles to Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo and SS chief.

But a legal bid by the Prince’s grandson, Prince Friedrich zu Solms-Baruth V, to have the properties returned failed yesterday.

A court in Potsdam rejected pleas for their restitution, arguing that the contract which led to their being relinquished to the Gestapo was legal because German law still recognized Nazi Germany as a constitutional state in which the rule of law prevailed.

Antony Beevor, the British historian and Nazi-era expert, said the mere fact that the prince’s grandfather signed over his estates while being held prisoner in the Gestapo’s infamous Berlin headquarters rendered the signature invalid.