WJRO Romania Operations
Romania has passed a series of laws dealing with the restitution of confiscated communal and private real property, but their implementation has proceeded exceedingly slowly. Prior to the Holocaust, 825,000 Jews lived in Romania, while approximately 11,000 currently reside there.
Some twenty applicable laws, government orders, emergency orders and decisions govern the restitution of confiscated real property formerly owned by religious and minority organizations or institutions. In 1997, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM) and the WJRO established the Caritatea Foundation, which assumed responsibility for preparing and submitting claims for such confiscated property and managing any property recovered or related compensation. Ultimately, the Caritatea Foundation submitted 1,980 claims to the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP). The claims process has a number of problems: some involve legislative deficiencies including that no compensation is provided for demolished or certain modified buildings, and property appraisals are not based on market value; others relate to the prolonged delays in resolving claims due, in large part, to difficulties in obtaining relevant documentation, limited archival access and the high level of proof required.
Legislation passed in 2016 clarifies the Caritatea Foundation’s rights to 55 Jewish communal properties – such as schools and burial societies – that were incorporated separately from the pre-Holocaust central Jewish communities. Additionally, it resolves a technical issue that delayed 40 of the Caritatea Foundation’s claims for properties that the Jewish communities were compelled to “donate” to the government during the Communist era. These amendments were passed based on the recommendations of the working group of representatives of the Romanian government, WJRO and FEDROM.
Law No. 10, passed in 2001, established a claims process – which proved to be complex and burdensome – for the return of private real property, confiscated beginning in 1945. Claimants faced a number of problems with the process, including the following: initially, no foreign notice of the claims program was provided; a decentralized system of claims processing which confused potential claimants; no compensation was provided for demolished buildings; property ownership records were difficult to obtain, as government archives proved uncooperative; and the law did not establish an effective payment mechanism for circumstances when it was not possible to return property in kind.
Approximately 250,000 private property claims were submitted by the laws 2003 deadline. The ANRP estimates that some 100,000 to 120,000 of the claims submitted were for compensation, but very few claims have been properly documented. As of 2007, over four years after the filing deadline, fewer than 100,000 claims had been resolved and few properties had been returned in rem. Romania enacted Law No. 247 (in 2005), which amended the restitution laws and sought to remedy certain inadequacies of and procedural concerns with the existing claims program.
Among other matters, Law No. 247/2005 (amended 2008) provided for the following:
- Property confiscated beginning in 1945 was covered;
- Just and equitable compensation to be offered reflecting market value when the property cannot be returned;
- Shift in the presumption of ownership of property from the State to the former claimant/ owner;
- Extension of document submission deadline for previously filed claims; and
- Disciplinary sanctions for the failure of the decision-making body to make timely decisions and awards.
In addition, Law No. 247/2005 (together with Government Decision No. 1481/2005) authorized establishment of a Property Fund, out of which compensation would be paid to eligible claimants when confiscated property cannot be returned in-kind. The Property Fund, an investment fund consisting of the shares of over 100 state-owned companies, which holds the equivalent of between 4-5 billion Euros in registered capital, when operational, would issue shares in settlement of successful restitution claims. While a director of the Fund has been retained, the Fund, which is to be listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange (which had not happened as of September 2009), continues to be plagued by a number of other serious problems.
In June 2010 the new Romanian Government passed an Emergency ordinance (Geo 62) which blocked payments for compensations (already approved) for two years.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has frequently criticized Romania for its exceedingly slow process and ineffective payment mechanism, consistently ruling in favor of former Romanian property owners and often directing the government to return contested property or pay appropriate damages. As a result of Romania’s failure to respond effectively to its rulings in court, in February 2010, the ECHR issued a “pilot judgment” directing the Government of Romania, within eighteen months, to undertake all necessary measures — whether legislative, administrative or budgetary — to deal with the protracted delays in returning seized property and to provide a remedy in a timely fashion for the thousands of people seeking relief.
In response to the 2010 ECHR decision, the Romanian Parliament passed legislation in April 2013 aimed at speeding the restitution and compensation for existing private property and communal property claims.
In September 2013, the WJRO sent the Romanian government a position paper outlining problems with the legislation, including provisions that unfairly delay and/or reduce compensation for many properties. The WJRO paper called for implementation of the aspects of the legislation designed to speed the claims process, but, unfortunately, there have already been delays in carrying out those provisions.
Following a February 2015 meeting of WJRO and then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a working group of representatives of the government and WJRO, in coordination with the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, was established to identify administrative and legislative changes to improve the process of restituting private property and Jewish communal property, as well as to provide for the return of heirless Jewish property.
Based on the recommendations of this working group new legislation was drafted, and on May 10, 2016, Romania passed legislation that enables Holocaust survivors to request prioritized processing of their claims. Over 40,000 claims overall remain to be processed.
Romania has not addressed heirless or unclaimed property left by victims of Holocaust persecution. Romania committed to restitution or compensation for Jewish heirless property in the Treaty of Peace, signed in Paris on February 10, 1947.
For more information about the Caritatea Foundation, click here.
Relevant Press Releases and News
Romania Takes Steps Toward Restitution to Holocaust Survivors, The New York Times, May 10, 2016
Romania Passes Holocaust Restitution Law, as 40,000 Claims Not Yet Processed, Forward, May 10, 2016
Romanian Parliament Approves Expediting Holocaust Claims, Haaretz, May 10, 2016
Romanian Holocaust Survivors in Israel Receive Additional Funds, February 23, 2016
Romania pledges to resolve restitution issues on Jewish property, JTA, March 8, 2015