Two-thirds of the approximately 825,000 Jews who lived in pre-war Hungary were killed during the Holocaust. About 100,000 Jews currently reside in the country. Hungary has not met its obligations under the post-war Treaty of Paris to provide compensation for heirless and unclaimed formerly Jewish-owned assets. Moreover, Hungary has made efforts to address the restitution of, or compensation for, confiscated Jewish communal and private property but, significantly, the private property claims process suffered from numerous problems yet to be effectively addressed.
In 1993, the Constitutional Court of Hungary directed the government to implement certain provisions of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 (to which the country was a signatory), which required heirless and otherwise unclaimed Jewish property to be returned to the Jewish community for “relief and rehabilitation” of Holocaust survivors and to help reinvigorate the Hungarian Jewish community.
In 2007, the Hungarian government pledged $21 million to be distributed over the course of five years to assist Holocaust survivors in Hungary and survivors of Hungarian origin living abroad. The $21 million represented an advance payment on an expected, subsequent agreement providing more comprehensive compensation reflecting the value of the heirless and unclaimed formerly Jewish-owned assets confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regime after the war.
The Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment (MAZSOK), a restitution foundation in Hungary composed of local Hungarian Jews, government officials and the WJRO, was tasked with administering one-third of the funds to survivors currently living in Hungary, while two-thirds of the funds were transferred to the Claims Conference to fund social welfare services for survivors in need living outside of Hungary. Since 2013, after the remaining funds from the promised $21 million were transferred to the Claims Conference, the WJRO has sought to resume negotiations with the Hungarian government to resolve outstanding Holocaust restitution issues in Hungary. In 2016 and 2018, the government sent its long awaited research reports on heirless property to WJRO. In 2017 and 2019 respectively, WJRO presented the government with its expert’s assessment of the Hungarian research, in which the expert outlined substantial areas needing further research and concluded that the properties identified by the Government researchers falls significantly short of estimating the number and value of Jewish-owned heirless and unclaimed real estate. Hungary’s final summary report was shared with WJRO in January 2021.
Now that the research is complete, the next step is for the government and WJRO to establish a clear joint roadmap to conclude negotiations, with an equally clear target date.
Act No. XXV of 1991 (providing partial compensation for property damage caused in the period May 1939-June 1949) and Act No. XXIV of 1992 (providing compensation for property damage sustained through implementation of certain laws in the period May 1939-June 1949) deal with the restitution of private property illegally seized during World War II and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regime.
However, a number of circumstances related to the private property claims process deterred, or otherwise made it difficult for, many potential claimants and generated frequent complaints, including the following:
- no in rem restitution;
- severely limited compensation, reflecting a small percentage of a property’s market value, and a modest payment ceiling;
- only Hungarian citizens at the time the property was seized or the date of the relevant law’s enactment, or foreign nationals with a primary residence in Hungary in December 1990, were eligible for compensation;
- narrow definition of heir;
- data privacy laws and limited archival access made ownership documents difficult to obtain;
- limited worldwide notification of the claims process; and
- claims processing exceedingly slow with extensive delays in payments.
The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ), the umbrella agency of Jewish organizations and communities in Hungary, obtained the use of a number of buildings pursuant to laws for the restitution of communal and religious property. In addition, MAZSIHISZ concluded an agreement with the government through which it waived its right to claim any additional, formerly Jewish-owned communal property in exchange for a government annuity bond.
Resources and Links
ESLI Overview of Immovable Property Restitution/Compensation Regimes – Hungary
European Shoah Legacy Institute
US Department of State – Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report
July, 2020 – Hungary – Contents on page 84