European nations not returning Jewish properties taken during Holocaust era

Many European nations behind the former Iron Curtain have failed to return property taken from Jews before and during World War II, according to a report released Monday, which also is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The report, entitled “The Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study,” is the first comprehensive study of which national signatories to a 2009 declaration on the treatment of immovable property restitution for Holocaust-era assets have made good on their commitments.

Known as the Terezin Declaration, it was drafted eight years ago to deal with the looting and property theft of Jews during WWII. A total of 47 countries signed the declaration and committed to resolving Holocaust property issues that remained for decades after the end of the war.

One of the key findings of the report, co-authored by the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and the European Shoah Legacy Institute, is that a high number of Eastern European countries have only complied partially with their commitments. Some -- like Poland and Bosnia – have done nothing to honor their commitments.

Most Western European nations were found to have complied with the Terezin Declaration.

“[S]ome countries, particularly Poland, have not yet addressed the legacy of property looted during the Holocaust,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO's chair of operations, said to Fox News. “It is urgent that countries provide restitution or compensation now, while the remaining survivors are alive to benefit.”

Taylor says that Poland — where Nazi forces killed nearly 90 percent of the Jews — is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc to not pass any comprehensive law to return property that was confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by Communist forces.

Other countries, like Latvia and Croatia, have not completed their returns of Jewish communal properties such as synagogues and hospitals.

Nations also on the list because they had not complied with the declaration are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro and Slovenia, according to the report.

“Heirless property is the category of property least likely to have been addressed by countries,” Taylor said. “This is important because the widespread murder of Jews meant that in many countries most property became heirless – and the Terezin Declaration provides that heirless property should be used to help Holocaust survivors instead of remaining in the possession of the state.”

The report offers a possible reason for the lack of inaction in some Eastern European nations.

In many of the former Eastern European states that were part of the Soviet Union, both Jewish and non-Jewish communal property was either nationalized or never returned to the proper ethnic and religious groups that had them before the war. When the Iron Curtain fell, many of these nations passed laws to reverse this and hand the property back to its rightful owners. However, many of them have been slow to implement these laws.

Some countries have blocked Jewish groups from reclaiming seized property because their current names differ from the groups’ names during the Holocaust era. Some countries also have blocked Jewish groups from reclaiming seized property because those properties, like schools and hospitals, did not have a strictly religious function.

In Latvia, there are still ownership disputes of former Jewish communal properties and none are subject to current restitution laws.

In Croatia, restitution laws drafted in the early 1990s only cover Communist era property confiscations and do not include properties taken during the Holocaust.

The WJRO’s Taylor says that this issue can no longer be ignored by Eastern Europe and the world at large.

“It is urgent that countries provide restitution or compensation now, while the remaining survivors are alive to benefit,” he said.

The report’s release Monday was timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah.

“On Holocaust Remembrance Day we honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust,” Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said in statement to Fox News.

“At the same time, our mission is to make sure those who survived the atrocities are cared for and can live out their remaining days with the dignity robbed of them in their childhood.”