Jerusalem, Feb. 25 – Top Romanian officials indicated that they would support efforts to improve and quicken the process of restituting Holocaust-era property claims.
The announcement comes after two days of high-level meetings that included the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) delegation, together with representatives of the U.S. and Israeli governments and the leader of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FEDROM).
The gatherings took place Monday and Tuesday in Bucharest with Prime Minister Victor Ponta and other senior officials to discuss the resolution of wartime-era property claims. Other senior Romanian officials at the meetings were Valeriu Zgonea, parliamentary speaker; Rovana Plumb, minister of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly; and others.
The Romanian leaders said they would back efforts to better the restitution process and looked forward to working together in a spirit of cooperation. To this end, a working group will be created and meet within 90 days to review the processing of cases. The working group comprises representatives of the Romanian Prime Minister’s Office and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, together with FEDROM and with the assistance of the U.S. government.
“Romania has done much to address the issue of Holocaust-era restitution, but still has substantial work to do to complete the task,” said Alfred Moses, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, who led the delegation on behalf of WJRO. “We look forward to resolving the outstanding issues.”
Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations, said, “It is essential that we move fast. There are fewer and fewer survivors every day.”
In pre-war Romania, about 725,000 people identified as Jewish. More than 300,000 Romanian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and only about 8,000 to 10,000 live in the country today.
WJRO’s delegation included Amb. Moses; Amb. Colette Avital, chairperson of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel; and Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues, Nicholas Dean, accompanied the WJRO team. Also participating were Israeli Amb. Dan Ben-Eliezer and Dr. Aurel Vainer, president of FEDROM.
Beginning in the 1990s, Romania passed a series of laws for private and communal property restitution. These laws created complex processes that sometimes conflicted and were not wellenforced. Claims processing – as well as the restitution of, or compensation for these properties – has proceeded slowly.
In 1997, the WJRO and Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania established the Caritatea Foundation, which assumed responsibility for submitting claims for confiscated, formerly Jewish communal property, as well as for managing any recovered property or related compensation.
After intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, Romania passed legislation in April 2013 aimed at speeding the restitution of 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 quicken the claims process; unfortunately, delays in carrying out those provisions have occurred.