WJRO Welcomes Report on Status of Post-Holocaust Restitution
Many countries not yet fulfilled their obligation to return or compensate for property stolen by the Nazis more than 70 years ago, study finds
Monday 24 April – More than 70 years after the conclusion of World War II, a significant proportion of the proceeds of the mass theft that accompanied the Holocaust remains in the hands of those not entitled to it, according to a major study published today on the current state of post-Holocaust restitution in Europe.
The most comprehensive study of its kind, the Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study, examines all significant legislation passed by the 47 endorsing states of 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets since 1945, and highlights how each country has responded to its commitment to return or provide compensation for land and businesses confiscated from Jewish communities and other persecuted groups during the Holocaust. The Study was commissioned by the European Shoah Legacy Institute.
Most states in Western Europe have largely complied with the principles of the Declaration. However, many former Communist states of Eastern Europe, notably Poland, have not yet fulfilled their Terezin Declaration obligations to enact comprehensive immovable property legislation, and a ‘substantial amount’ of property confiscated from European Jews remains unrestituted, according to the study.
The findings underline the huge gulf between the well-known settlements involving bank deposits and insurance proceeds and much larger unresolved issues around private and communal immovable property illegitimately seized from Jewish victims during the Holocaust. What amounts to the largest theft in history has not been adequately dealt with.
This includes both pre-war Jewish private property currently in the hands of the state and private individuals or entities, and Jewish religious and communal buildings such as synagogues, clubs and social service organizations that have never been returned to the local Jewish community. The Terezin Declaration held the widely-recognised view that no state should benefit from heirless property, and that special funds should instead be allocated to needy Holocaust survivors. Yet in most countries in Eastern Europe, property that became heirless as a result of mass murder reverted to the state, and has not been returned.
There are approximately 500,000 survivors alive today, of whom it is estimated that up to half live in poverty.
Welcoming the report, Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, said: “This report shines a light on the failure of some countries to address the past and to return that which was taken.
“Progress has been made in recent years on returning and compensating for looted property but, as survivors pass away, Europe must ensure that all countries live up to their international commitments.”
The Study will be presented at an international conference, Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance, which is being hosted at the European Parliament in Brussels this Wednesday (26 April). The conference is being conducted under the patronage of the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Antonio Tajani MEP, and is being organized by the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors (EAHS), a coalition of Members of the European Parliament committed to issues impacting Holocaust Survivors, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and the European Shoah Legacy Institute, together with the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith International as well as the Permanent Missions of the State of Israel, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom to the European Union and their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
Other key findings in the 1265-page study include:
- Many Eastern European states have only partially complied with the Terezin Declaration regarding restitution of private immovable property, and Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina have failed to enact any comprehensive immovable property legislation covering property taken during the Holocaust and Communist eras.
- In some countries, important areas of the law regarding restitution does not yet meet the standards of the Terezin Declaration. For example, Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia, and Slovenia limit eligible claimants to those who are currently citizens of their respective countries.
- While the level of compliance in Eastern Europe is higher for communal property than for private property, ownership over many formerly Jewish religious and communal properties in Latvia remains in dispute and are not subject to current restitution legislation. Croatia, where the restitution law passed in the early 1990s covered only Communist era property confiscations, excludes property that was taken during the Holocaust, and does not cover properties that were owned by different Jewish legal entities. In Poland, fewer than half of 5,550 Jewish communal property claims filed under the 1997 restitution law have been adjudicated.
- The level of compliance to the Terezin Declaration has been lower for confiscated, heirless property than for any other form of immovable property, and a dozen European countries have not enacted special heirless property laws. Among them are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Slovenia and Poland. In the Baltic States and Poland, where the overwhelming majority of Jews did not survive the Holocaust, there is likely to be the largest percentage of heirless property. Romania has an heirless property law on its books, but it was never meaningfully implemented. In the case of Hungary, the country has taken certain legislative measures with respect to heirless property since 1997, but the Jewish community views these measures as only a “down payment” by the government against the value of all heirless property in Hungary.
Notes to Editors:
An executive summary, an overview of the report, and the full report are available on the European Shoah Legacy Institute website at http://shoahlegacy.org/restitution-of-immovable-property/.
The ESLI Study was completed by a team led by Michael Bazyler, professor of law at Fowler School of Law, Chapman University, author and The 1939 Law Society Scholar in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies, and included assistance from Terezin governments, stakeholders, pro bono attorneys, and experts in the field of property restitution.
The Study is 1265 pages long, including Executive Report, Country reports and governmental responses.