In 1944, the leader of Hungary’s Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szalasi, whom the Nazis appointed prime minister in October 1944, compelled the country’s Jews to transfer all their bank deposts to government banks. A short time after this was done, the Hungarian Jews were no longer given access to their own accounts.
The order to block access to these accounts was only rescinded in 1988, but according to the plaintiffs lawayers Peter Gal and Gabor Kereke, there has been no case of a single Holocaust survivor receiving access to their total amount in their account.
There have been previous court proceedings to reclaim access to the accounts but with little success. In one case, the representative of the National Bank of Hungary, Peter Sardy, justified the nationalization of the accounts as "an economic necessity."
There is also the matter of the interest accrued on these accounts over the years. While some in the Hungarian government are claiming that due to hyper-inflation of the Hungarian forint at the end of the second world war the accounts severely lost a lot of their value. The lawyers for the plaintiffs are calling for the accounts to be tied to the growing cost of gold as a far more appropriate way of working out the true worth of the accounts today.
Torrid history of restitution and compensation
The issue of restitution and compensation in Hungary has been a torrid one. Many efforts were made to return property to those persecuted under Communism but the Jews always seemed to be left out.
As a result of an agreement reached in 1996, the Hungarian government set up the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Fund, appointed its curators and handed over nine buildings, a few paintings and compensation coupons to the sum of 200 million USD, the latter to be used for supplementing the pension of the roughly 20,000 Holocaust survivors by 25-70 USD per month, depending on age.
Hungarian Jews through the Claims Conference have also managed to receive money from the German government. The Hungarian government announced the re-opening of the compensation program at the March 2006 meeting of the Claims Conference in Budapest.
Reprinted with permission of the European Jewish Press