Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction

During World War II, the Nazis seized property, real and movable, from organizations and individuals which the Nazi regime was persecuting -- Jews, members of some Christian organizations, Roma, homosexuals, and others. Much of that property in Western Europe was returned during the post-war period -- under occupation law in areas occupied by the Allies, and under the laws of individual countries. This was not generally possible behind the Iron Curtain, where the newly-established communist governments simply took over property seized earlier by the Nazis. Those governments also frequently confiscated additional property from their own citizens.

The collapse of communism in 1989-91 made it possible to restitute property in the former Iron Curtain countries. Many countries enacted legislation to provide for the restitution of both private and communal property. (Communal property is property previously owned by religious and other organizations. It includes churches, synagogues, community halls, parochial schools, medical facilities, etc.)

The United States has strongly supported efforts to restitute to rightful owners property confiscated by the Nazis 1933-45 and by the subsequent communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. Positive action on property issues was one of the criteria used to judge the progress of countries that aspired to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. The European Union (EU) also recognizes the relevance of property issues in applicant countries.

A successful property restitution program is an indicator of the effectiveness of the rule of law in a democratic country. Non-discriminatory, effective property laws are also of crucial importance to a healthy market economy.