Study: Eastern Europe not meeting commitments on returning stolen Jewish property
Report to be presented before EU Parliament details the biggest theft in history, where eastern European and former communist countries appropriate stolen Jewish property, make claims difficult and don't honor international agreements for restitution.
The report examines the state of property restitution after the Holocaust in Europe and is considered the most comprehensive of its kind, examining all the significant legislation passed by the 46 countries that signed the 2009 Terezin Declaration calling for the restoration of Jewish property during the Holocaust.
The study indicates that most western European countries have largely followed the principles of the Terezin Declaration.
However, many of the former communist eastern European countries, especially Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have yet to meet their commitments.
The stolen property includes pre-war private Jewish properties currently in government and private hands, as well as Jewish religious-communal structures such as synagogues, clubs, and welfare organizations, which have never been returned to the local Jewish community.
The Terezin Declaration expressed a widely recognized principle that no state should profit from property without heirs, and that needy Holocaust survivors, of which there are an estimated quarter of a million, should be provided for with incomes derived from those properties.
However, in most eastern European countries, property left without heirs was transferred to the state and never returned. Furthermore, countries such as Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia and Slovenia, allow property claims to be filed only by their citizens.
The study also found that the eastern European countries are more likely to return communal property than private property.
But in Latvia, for example, the ownership of Jewish religious-communal property is controversial and therefore the property is ignored in the framework of the Law of Restitution.
Moreover, a law passed in Croatia in the early 1990s covers only property confiscated during the era of communism. It does not include property taken during the Holocaust and does not cover property that was legally owned by Jewish organizations.
In Poland, only half of the 5,550 communal property claims filed under the 1997 Law of Restitution were accepted.
A dozen European countries have yet to pass special legislation for property without heirs, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Slovenia and Poland.
Researchers found that in Romania, there is a law relating to property without heirs, but it has never been implemented significantly.
In the case of Hungary, the state has taken a number of legislative procedures with regard to property without heirs since 1997, but the Jewish community sees these steps only as a "down payment" by the government in relation to the value of all lost Jewish property in Hungary.
Gideon Taylor, chairman of the operations committee of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), welcomed the report, saying, "The report sheds light on the failure of certain countries to address the past and to restore what was taken away. In recent years there has been progress in recovering and compensating for looted property, but as the survivors pass away, Europe must ensure that all countries comply with their international obligations."
The report will be presented at an international conference to be held at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday, under the auspices of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, calling on EU institutions to support finding solutions to recover stolen Jewish property.
(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg)