By Investigative Unit Producer
NBC News
updated 7/10/2006 4:19:05 PM ET 2006-07-10T20:19:05

The doctor whose building was destroyed Monday morning in a midtown Manhattan explosion was involved in a bitter divorce battle and has been accused of traumatizing his Jewish wife by placing Nazi paraphernalia throughout their home, according to court records.

A New York appellate court ruled against Dr. Nicholas Bartha in January 2005, writing that over the course of their marriage he put “swastika-adorned articles and notes” in their home and “became enraged” when his wife removed them.

Court records indicate an intensely fierce divorce proceeding, where a major issue was ownership of the building.

The four-story property, located in one of New York’s most exclusive neighborhoods, collapsed and burned after what witnesses said was a thunderous explosion Monday morning. The fire department described the collapse as a “major incident” likely caused by a gas leak, and  sent 170 firefighters to the scene.

Fire Department Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said officials suspect the doctor, who was in critical condition, might have caused a natural gas leak in a suicide attempt. “It is possible it is a suicide [attempt],” he told WNBC.

At least 10 other people were injured — four civilians and six firefighters, according to officials.

$5 million value
Bartha’s home was valued at $5 million in a 2002 appraisal. The appeals decision rejected the initial distribution of assets in the divorce and does not disclose what resolution, if any, there has been since then.

An appellate judge who decided the case wrote: “This was not a case of ordinary marital dissatisfaction or even “riotous quarrels” as defendant [Dr. Bartha] suggests. Defendant intentionally traumatized plaintiff,” his wife, Cordula Bartha.

According to documents: “Cordula Bartha, who was born in the Netherlands, emigrated with her family to Italy in 1960. She earned a Ph.D. in German Literature from the University of Rome, after which she found employment as an assistant to a publisher.

“In 1973, she met defendant Nicholas Bartha, a medical student of Romanian and Hungarian heritage. The parties lived together in Rome until defendant graduated from medical school in April 1974, at which time they relocated to the United States and moved in with defendants’ parents in a large house owned by defendant and his mother in Rego Park, New York.”

Lawyers representing the Bartha family did not return calls seeking comment.

Aram Roston is an NBC News Investigative Unit Producer.The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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