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Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010.  The country does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating specifically to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property.  Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons.

The Albanian government reported no records of property claims submitted by victims of the Holocaust, and the Department is not aware of any claims by the local Jewish community or American citizens regarding real property dating from the Holocaust era.  However, the Agency for the Treatment of Property faces thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era, which would compound any challenges for victims of the Holocaust.  The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, and NGOs noted claimants in general still struggle to obtain due process from the government for property restitution.


Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

After the end of the Communist regime in November 1989, the Czechoslovak parliament introduced legislation regarding both private and communal property restitution, including heirless property, albeit with limitations that affected both the amount of property returned and the number of eligible claimants.  The legislation was subsequently carried over into Slovak law.

The private property restitution regime, relating to both property expropriated during the Holocaust and property seized during the Communist era, was introduced in 1991 in Czechoslovakia through Act No. 87/1991 on Extra-Judicial Rehabilitation (and amendments) and Act No. 229/1991 on the Regulation of Property Relations to the Land and Other Agricultural Property (and amendments).  These acts related to restitution of property such as buildings, land, and agricultural property expropriated between the beginning of the Nazi occupation (1939) and the Velvet Revolution (1989).  Both laws offered the possibility of compensation and restitution for expropriated property.  Claimants who chose restitution of the actual property where the property had appreciated in value were, however, obligated to pay the current owner the difference between the original and the current value.  The legislation also required that claimants be citizens with permanent residence in the country, which limited the number of eligible and successful claimants.

Representatives of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO) have maintained that in some cases, non-Jews who had acquired Jewish property during the Holocaust and subsequently lost it to Communist nationalization after 1948 were successful in obtaining restitution of that property under the referenced 1991 laws.  Jewish representatives also reported difficulties with obtaining restitution for agricultural land because of extreme parcel fragmentation caused by the local inheritance system and poor documentation, challenges that also applied to non-Jewish applicants for restitution.

Since the laws introducing the restitution regime for private property did not include provisions for the disposition of property for which no heirs could be identified, the Slovak government and the Slovak Jewish community in 2000 established a Joint Commission to review heirless property and other remaining restitution issues.  The commission consisted of Slovak government representatives and 10 Jewish representatives:  seven from the Slovak Jewish community, including UZZNO; one each representing the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International; and one jointly representing the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

Experts contracted by the Joint Commission reported that Jewish movable property and real estate (excluding agricultural lands) that changed ownership due to racial laws, liquidation, or expropriation and transfer to non-Jews during the period 1939-1945 was valued at approximately 8.5 billion Slovak Crowns ($185 million in 2002).  The estimate was based on original documentation from the Nazi expropriation process and included the value of Jewish enterprises sold to non-Jews, blocked bank deposits, unpaid insurance policies, and the value of certain movable assets, such as livestock.

In 2002, the Slovak government and the Jewish community reached an agreement under which the Jewish community would accept 10 percent (approximately $18.5 million) of the aforementioned sum as a settlement.  The agreement also created the Council for the Compensation of Holocaust Victims in the Slovak Republic, which was composed of government officials and members of the Jewish community.  For a period of 10 years, the Council distributed the settlement funds for the following purposes:  (1) to individuals whose assets were neither returned nor indemnified in any way; (2) for social-health care projects with special consideration for the needs of Holocaust survivors; (3) for the reconstruction, renewal,  and maintenance of Jewish monuments in the Slovak Republic; (4) for projects dedicated to the dignified memory of Holocaust victims; and (5) for support of Jewish social, cultural and education activities.

Up to one-third of the fund was earmarked for compensation to individuals whose assets were never returned or indemnified in any way.  This included compensation for Holocaust victims or their heirs (regardless of their current permanent residency status) whose confiscated properties were located in the part of Slovak territory that was ceded to Hungary through an agreement brokered by Germany and Italy in 1938.  Of the approximately 1,300 claims registered by the December 31, 2003, deadline, mostly by descendants of Slovak Jews living in the United States and Israel, 580 claimants were deemed eligible.  Their payments ranged from $1,100 to $34,000, with the average payment $16,000.  Many applications were rejected for lack of sufficient evidence.  The remainder of this part of the fund was used to make one-time payments of about $3,000 each to 122 claimants who were Slovak citizens and who were initially rejected from another Holocaust-related compensation program provided under Act no. 305/1999 on the Mitigation of Certain Injustices to Persons Deported to Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps.  In 2012, the remaining balance from the fund, approximately one-third of the principal amount, was transferred from the Council to UZZNO, which continues to use it for funding social and healthcare services for survivors, for the upkeep of religious monuments, and for awareness/education projects.

Regarding communal property restitution, in 1993 Slovakia enacted Act No. 282/1993 on the Mitigation of Certain Injustices Caused to Churches and Religious Communities.  The law covered property confiscated between 1945 and 1990, but a special provision permitted Jewish communities to file claims dating back to 1938.  The state, municipalities, and private citizens were obliged to return religious and communal properties to their rightful owners.  A follow-up Restitution Law No. 161 enacted in 2005 permitted religious communities to file claims also for agricultural and forest land and administrative buildings, including non-religious property.  The 2005 law also reopened the claims process under Act No. 282/1993, as potential claimants may not have been aware of the opportunity to seek restitution, leaving many claims unsatisfied.

UZZNO filed communal property claims on behalf of the Jewish community in areas where there was no longer an active Jewish presence.  The organization filed 500 property claims; 300 of these claims were satisfied, most which were for Jewish cemeteries.  UZZNO described the process of communal property restitution as uneven across the country.  Restitution in Bratislava occurred relatively swiftly, but in eastern Slovakia – which had a large Jewish presence before the Holocaust but a very small community in the 1990s and 2000s – there were difficulties in returning buildings to the community.  In addition, critics reported that municipalities were frequently pleased to return derelict synagogues, but problems arose when the buildings in question were being used for municipal services.  There is an ongoing dispute before Slovak courts over heirless land for which the Jewish community continues to seek restitution.


Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Spain has not enacted immovable property restitution laws, and the European Shoah Legacy Institute’s (ESLI) 2017 Immovable Property Restitution Study indicates that private property and communal property were not seized from Jewish communities in Spain during the Holocaust.


Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The Swiss government stated in its 2012 Green Paper on Immovable Property that immovable property was not confiscated or otherwise wrongfully seized in Switzerland during WWII, and thus “legislation and administrative measures regarding specifically immovable (real) property were not adopted or prepared.”  Separately, a U.S. Department of State interagency task force in 1997 detailed ways in which the Swiss Central Bank knowingly converted Nazi-looted gold bullion stolen from countries occupied by Nazi Germany into Swiss francs and that these funds assisted German war efforts.  Historical investigations undertaken by the Independent Commission of Experts in the 1990s came to similar conclusions about the role of the Swiss Central Bank and included anecdotal evidence that Swiss banks and insurance companies were implicated in immovable property transactions involving Jewish property and assets elsewhere in Europe.

In 1998, the Department of State’s Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues and the World Jewish Congress identified more than 20,000 bank accounts as belonging to Jews who had moved their money to Swiss private banks for safekeeping.  These funds were never returned to them or their heirs.  In 1998, class action lawyers and the World Jewish Restitution Organization reached a $1.25 billion settlement with defendant Swiss private banks for their handling of Jewish-owned bank accounts, including the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) and Credit Suisse.  The settlement resolved all outstanding restitution claims against Switzerland (i.e., against the Swiss state, cantons, private persons, and businesses) involving nearly all forms of wealth, including real estate, cash, shares, precious metals, and jewelry, among others.  Of the $1.25 billion awarded, $800 million was earmarked for repayments to victims or targets of Nazi persecution (such as Jews, Roma/Sinti, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others) whose money had remained in Swiss bank accounts after the war.  Another $425 million was distributed to other classes in the settlement agreement, including victims who were forced laborers or were allowed entry into Switzerland but were abused or mistreated; victims who were forced laborers at German companies (as the proceeds were sent to Switzerland); and an allocation was made on account of those victims who had the proceeds of their looted assets pass through Switzerland.

While the Swiss government did not take part in the settlement, it co-created a $300 million special memorial fund for Holocaust victims with the Swiss Bankers’ Association.  The fund drew on contributions from the country’s private sector to offer assistance to Holocaust survivors and relatives of victims whose assets lay dormant in Swiss banks since the war.

United Kingdom

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The Department of State is not aware of issues in regard to Holocaust-era immovable property claims in the UK.  According to the UK government, no communal property was confiscated in the UK during WWII.  The government also stated that it was unclear whether there was any heirless WWII-era property in the UK.

Between 1948 and 1957, the UK offered an ex gratia scheme to compensate victims of Nazi persecution from Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria whose property had been taken by the UK government under the 1939 Trading with the Enemy Act.  [In 1939, Britain re‑established its Trading with the Enemy Act that had been in place during World War I.  The law froze assets located in Britain belonging to the “enemy.”  This included the assets of persons from countries which had been invaded by the Axis powers but also included assets of Jews fleeing from continental Europe.]  Funds they were not able to restitute were turned over to a “Nazi Victims Relief Trust.”  From 1959 to 1961, the Trust paid persons who “had been persecuted before 1945 on racial, religious, or political grounds in European countries at war with the UK” awards of up to £1,500 (the equivalent of $4,215 in 1960), with the majority consisting of £500 (the equivalent of $1,405 in 1960).

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future