In early 1991, six months after German reunification, I went to Berlin to write about the wrenching effects of the government's decision to restore ownership to those whose property had been seized decades earlier by the Nazi and Communist regimes. I became interested in one house in particular, a once elegant, now dilapidated nineteenth-century villa in Potsdam that was the object of a claim by the twelve grandchildren of the house's former owner, Paul Wallich, the son of a prominent Jewish banker.

As far as Paul Wallich's descendants were concerned, in the fifty years that the house was inaccessible to them, first during the Nazi period, then in Communist East Germany, it had stood in a state of abeyance. Although Wallich family pictures showed its grandeur frozen in time, the house had in fact taken a new identity. The Communists had turned it into a Kinderwochenheim, or weekly Kindergarten, a uniquely socialist child-care arrangement that crosses a boarding school or orphanage with a day-care center. By the time I

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