‘Important First Step in Addressing Nation’s Holocaust Legacy’
JERUSALEM, Dec. 3, 2014 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the Croatian government’s transfer of a valuable parcel of land and office building in central Zagreb to the local Jewish community.
Croatia will restitute the government-owned property at 6 Dezmanova St., a 6-story building situated on 874 square meters of land, in lieu of a building once owned by the Jewish burial society. That original Jewish-owned building, now in use by another entity, was expropriated during World War II and then nationalized by the Communist government.
“This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalize itself in a democratic Croatia,” Daniel S. Mariaschin, head of the WJRO negotiating team and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said. “The income from this restituted property, valued at about $4 million, will help to fund the operation of the Zagreb Jewish Community’s facility for the elderly, among other essential communal needs.”
“We welcome this latest decision by the Croatian government,” WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor said, adding, “We ask that the government build on this positive action by returning additional properties to the Jewish community and providing restitution for private and heirless Jewish-owned properties.”
The original Jewish-owned building at 8 Amruseva St. was built in 1927 by the Jewish burial society, a social welfare institution serving the Zagreb Jewish Community. The Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia confiscated the property in 1941. After a brief return to the Jewish community in 1947, the building was nationalized by the government a month later. The property is currently owned by the Croatian Agricultural Cooperative Union. The Zagreb Jewish Community filed a claim for the return of the property in 1997.
Croatia’s decision comes ahead of Dec. 8-9 negotiations with WJRO representatives and after joint negotiations in April with WJRO representatives and a U.S. delegation led by Amb. Douglas Davidson, who then served as the special envoy for Holocaust issues, and Kenneth Merten, ambassador to Croatia. The talks occur in close coordination with the Zagreb Jewish Community.
Originally, the restituted property was owned by the Kleins, a Jewish family killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Croatian government in 1950 nationalized the property, which was later given to Croatian Radio Television. The government later took possession of the property because of tax debts.
Before World War II, more than 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; about 6,000 of them survived. The wartime Independent State of Croatia was ruled by the fascist Ustaše regime, which murdered Jews and others in concentration camps in Croatia, including Jasenovac, while overseeing deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today, some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia, mostly in Zagreb.
Croatia’s Jewish communities had submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia’s 1996 restitution law, yet only 15 non-cemetery properties were ever returned. Jewish private property owners from Croatia generally have not recovered their properties because the country’s restitution law does not apply to property seized during the Holocaust or allow claims by citizens of most foreign countries. Croatia also has not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated during the Holocaust.
Arie Bucheister, who also led the WJRO talks and serves as chief of staff of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said, “We thank the American government for its sustained leadership on restitution in Croatia. We also commend the government of Israel for its ongoing support of WJRO’s restitution efforts.”
Both B’nai B’rith International and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany are WJRO member-organizations.