Holocaust restitution report fails efforts by Poland, Bosnia

Study highlights difficulties European countries have had in restoring property to Jewish owners due to Communist rule

Jews being deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walte, Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-N0827-318)
Jews being deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walte, Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-N0827-318)

A study released Monday that looked at how far Eastern European countries have come in restitution of property plundered and stolen from Jews during the Holocaust criticized the poor performance of Poland and Bosnia in dealing with the issue.

The Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study looked at whether ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe have complied with a pledge made by 46 countries in 2009, known as the Terezin Declaration, to make efforts to restitute the lost property.

“Over seventy years after the Holocaust, a substantial amount of immovable property confiscated from European Jews remains unrestituted,” said the report that was released as Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. “While there have been significant steps forward in a number of endorsing countries, in the post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe there remains much to do regarding return of private and communal property.”

Carried out by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, the study found that while some Eastern European states have “substantially” complied with their pledges, others have done too little. The study faulted Poland and Bosnia in particular for failing to enact any legislation to address the problem.

“Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina stand alone as the only countries that have failed to establish a comprehensive private property restitution regime for property taken either during the Holocaust or Communist eras, or one that addresses both types of takings,” according to a summary of the report.

Countries in Western Europe began taking steps soon after the war to address the injustice of stolen property, but the takeover by Communists across Eastern Europe complicated matters. In some cases, property that was restituted early on was then confiscated by Communist regimes.

The report noted that Poland “had the highest percentage of deaths in its Jewish population in all of Europe, and correspondingly, likely the largest percentage of heirless property due to the number of deaths.”

Six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust in the years leading up to and during World War II. Three million Polish Jews, 90% of the country’s Jewish population, were murdered in death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“Most Western European states have complied or substantially complied with the Terezin Declaration and accompanying Guidelines and Best Practices regarding restitution of private immovable property,” the ELSI review observed.

A major hindrance to restitution is that in both Western and Eastern European countries heirless property usually reverts to state ownership. The Terezin Declaration recommends that heirless property be allocated for needy Holocaust survivors and Holocaust education.

“Unfortunately, this has not been implemented,” the report said.

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