Austria

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Post-war laws provided for the restitution of certain immovable property, but the laws were only partly satisfactory.  To address inadequacies, and in accordance with provisions in the January 2001 U.S.-Austrian Washington Agreement referred to above, the Austrian government set up a General Settlement Fund in May 2001.  The Fund included an arbitration panel on in rem restitution to restitute publicly owned property formerly owned by individuals or the Austrian Jewish community.  The deadline for filing applications was 2011, and the panel finished processing applications in December 2018.  In total, the Fund restituted property in some 140 cases, worth about €48 million (approximately $52.6 million).

The 2001 General Settlement Fund’s Claims Committee also addressed open questions of compensation (as opposed to restitution) for losses of assets that had not been sufficiently resolved by previous measures.  In particular, it focused on real property, business assets, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, movable assets, insurance policies, occupational and educational losses, and other losses and damages.  The deadline for filing applications was 2003.  The Fund was endowed with approximately $210 million total and was required to make payments on a pro‑rata basis.  The Fund’s Claims Committee received more than 20,000 applications, of which some 18,155 resulted in positive decisions.  Overall, the independent Claims Committee recognized claims totaling approximately $1.5 billion.  Since the total claimed amounts determined for all successful applications exceeded the $210 million provided for by the Washington Agreement, each applicant could receive only a defined fractional share of his or her claim.  For insurance policies, successful applicants received about 20 percent of the value and for other claims, between 10 and 17 percent of the value.  The panel finished processing applications in December 2018.

In accordance with the 2001 Washington Agreement, the City of Vienna also restituted the formerly Jewish-owned and operated Hakoah sports club facilities, expanding those facilities to create a Jewish center that included a school and a home for the elderly.  The Austrian government also set up a Fund for Jewish Cemeteries in 2010, in accordance with the same agreement.

Regarding heirless property, the Austrian government provided compensation to Jewish organizations after the re-establishment of Austria’s sovereignty through the 1955 Austrian State Treaty.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

In 1998, pursuant to the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art concluded that year, the Austrian government initiated an art restitution program that covered art in museums and institutions owned by the federal government, with provincial and municipal governments enacting their own laws.  Austria was one of the few countries that incorporated the Washington Principles into its national legislation.  The country has restituted more than 32,000 objects, among them renowned artworks such as the Rothschild family’s art collection in the Vienna Museum for Fine Art and several works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.  The art restitution law stipulated that an advisory panel recommend restoration to the rightful owner based on research conducted in federal museums and institutions by the Commission on Provenance Research.

Under the 2001 U.S.-Austrian Washington Agreement, the Austrian government agreed to undertake its best efforts to expand the jurisdiction of the country’s 1998 art restitution law, which initially covered only federal institutions, to the provincial and municipal levels.  The program is ongoing.  Problems remain regarding privately owned collections, which are subject to the principle of good faith acquisition.

Heirless art objects, in accordance with the federal art restitution law, are to be transferred to the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism.  In 2006, the National Fund posted an online database of some of these heirless objects to allow additional claimants to come forward; the database now holds more than 9,000 entries.  In Vienna, the 1996 Mauerbach auction of unclaimed Jewish-owned art resulted in a fund of $13.5 million, used primarily to benefit needy Austrian Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

Apart from the post-war restitution laws, which were also used for post-war communal property restitution, a 1960 law provided for a one-time payment of approximately $11.4 million as compensation for damaged synagogues, prayer houses, and other properties owned by the Jewish community, plus an annual allocation of approximately $846,200 to be paid for an indefinite time period.  The 2001 General Settlement Fund’s Claims Committee and in rem arbitration panel were also used to seek restitution of communal properties.

In 2002, the Austrian federal provinces, along with the Jewish communities of Vienna, Graz, Linz, and Salzburg, concluded an agreement intended to resolve all remaining questions of compensation for destroyed/looted assets that belonged to Jewish communities, associations, and foundations.  A payment amount of approximately $20 million was finalized in 2005, after the Vienna Jewish community withdrew more than 700 pending claims with the General Settlement Fund and withdrew amicus curiae support for a pending class action suit in the United States against Austria.

Austria’s libraries and museums conduct provenance research on Judaica and carry out restitution thereof.

Access to Archival Documents

The 2001 Washington Agreement stipulated that the Government of Austria would work on providing better access to the files of the Austrian State Archives and make efforts to ensure that requests for information are handled in an expedited and non-bureaucratic manner.  That stipulation was implemented in most cases, according to researchers working on Holocaust issues.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has enjoyed longstanding cooperation with several Austrian archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Holocaust education forms an important part of school curricula, and there are Holocaust remembrance projects throughout Austria.  The most prominent memorial site is the former concentration camp Mauthausen in Upper Austria.  The government funds Holocaust research projects on a regular basis, including via the “Future Fund.”  That mechanism disburses surplus funds from the compensation fund of Nazi-era forced and enslaved laborers to projects commemorating the victims of National Socialism and other totalitarian regimes.  Austria is also an active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The National Fund of Austria for the Victims of National Socialism continues to do educational programming.  For example, it recently funded a new Austrian exhibition in Block 17 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland with the title “Far removed.  Austria in Auschwitz.”

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

In accordance with the U.S.-Austria agreements concluded in 2000 and 2001, the Austrian government provided more than €180 million ($201.2 million) in nursing care payments to Holocaust survivors living abroad, most prominently in Israel and the United States.  The agreements also entitled Holocaust survivors living abroad to receive benefits under the Austrian pension system.  The National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, set up in 1995, provided lump-sum payments for Holocaust survivors and extra benefits for survivors in need of assistance.  The Reconciliation Fund for Compensation of Nazi-Era Forced and Slave Laborers, set up in 2000, issued payments to surviving forced and slave laborers.  An organization in Vienna also provides psychological assistance to Holocaust survivors.

The main entity representing former Austrian Jews in negotiations with Austria was the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, a sub-committee of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).  It was founded in 1953 after Germany refused to accept the obligations of Austria, arguing that Austria was also responsible for Nazi persecution of Jews.  Following negotiations with the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, in 1956 Austria enacted the Assistance Fund Act (Hilfsfondsgesetz) that established a modest fund to provide one-time payments to victims of National Socialism who lived abroad and did not receive benefits under the Austrian Victims Welfare Act.

Starting in 1961, after negotiations with the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, the General Social Insurance Law was amended several times to allow more victims to participate in the pension system by retroactively purchasing pensions at a preferential rate.  In 2001, as a result of the U.S.-Austria Washington Agreement of that year, the law was amended yet again so that all persons born prior to the Anschluss in March 1938 would be able to “purchase” a social security pension.  In 2008, after pressure from the Claims Conference, this was changed again to include those born until the end of WWII.

Former Austrian Jews are entitled to monthly “nursing assistance” based on their level of disability.  Prior to the 2001 Washington Agreement, those former Austrian Jews living abroad were only entitled to “Level 2,” irrespective of their level of disability.  As a result of the 2001 Washington Agreement, this discriminatory measure was removed, and former Austrian Jews were entitled to receive up to Level 7 of this program.  Most of the former Austrian Jews benefiting from these agreements reside in Israel or the United States.

The National Fund for Victims of National Socialism provided lump-sum payments for Holocaust survivors and extra benefits for survivors in need of assistance.  Since its establishment, the National Fund has made around 30,000 “gesture payments” of €5,087 ($5,690) to surviving Austrian victims of National Socialist injustice.  The total amount of all payments comes to around €157.3 million ($175.8 million).

Furthermore, since 2001, the National Fund also disbursed more than €175 million ($195.6 million) as symbolic compensation for seized tenancy rights, household effects, and personal valuables.  These took the form of lump-sum payments of €7,630 or $7,000 and additional payments of 1,000 euros.  The claims deadline ended in June 2004.  Additionally, the National Fund has so far approved funding for around 2,100 projects and programs worth approximately €30.8 million ($34.4 million).

The country’s Reconciliation Fund for Compensation of Nazi-Era Forced and Slave Laborers, set up in 2000, issued payments to surviving forced and slave laborers who had not already received a payment from the German Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future.”  The overwhelming majority of victims of the Nazis who received a payment from the Reconciliation Fund were non-Jewish forced laborers.

For more than a decade, the Claims Conference has received an annual allocation of €1.5 million (approximately $1.7 million) from the Austrian government for an emergency assistance program to benefit former Austrian Jews, a program administered by Jewish social welfare agencies in countries in which former Austrian Jews reside.  Finally, an organization in Vienna called ESRA, the Hebrew term for “help,” provides psychological assistance to Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

U.S. Citizen Claims

The General Settlement Fund and the Reconciliation Fund for Nazi-Era Forced and Slave Laborers have now closed.  However, U.S. citizens can still apply for certain benefits from the National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, the art restitution program, and the Austrian government’s social welfare benefits (annual pensions and “Pflegegeld”- nursing allowances).  In addition, needy former Austrian Jews can still apply to Jewish social welfare agencies to access the Austrian Holocaust Survivor Emergency Assistance Program funded by the Austrian Government via the Claims Conference.

Czech Republic

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The government has laws and mechanisms in place regarding restitution.  Local NGOs and advocacy groups reported that while the government had made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including by foreign citizens, many outstanding claims remain.  Some NGOs continue to push for progress, particularly on the disposition of heirless property and complex cases involving non-Czech citizens.  While it is still possible to file claims for Nazi‑confiscated artwork, the claims period for other types of property expired in October 1994 (Jewish private property – real estate), June 2001 (Jewish private property – agricultural land), and December 2013 (Jewish communal property – under the Church Restitution Act).

After the fall of the Communist regime in November 1989, the Czechoslovak Parliament adopted legislation providing for property restitution.  The first two laws, passed in 1991 (Act No. 87 and Act No. 229) covered confiscations during the period 1948-1989 and were primarily concerned with private property, farmland, and artwork.  After the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Parliament in 1994 adopted Act No. 116, which provided for the restitution of property taken by the Nazis from Holocaust victims between 1938 and 1945.  These laws still required that private property claimants be Czech citizens.  Also in 1994, the Czech government approved an executive order allowing for the restitution of 202 Jewish communal properties, including the return of the state-owned Jewish Museum to the country’s Federation of Jewish Communities.  In 2000, the Czech Parliament approved a law (Act No. 212) providing for restitution of Jewish private and communal properties.

In 2000, the Czech government and the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) also established the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims (NFOH), with some of the money in the fund originating from immovable property that was left heirless after the war.  (The Federation is an umbrella organization of existing Jewish communities and the legal successors to those Jewish communities that were annihilated.)  The Czech government contributed 300 million Czech koruna ($13 million) from its National Property Fund to support compensation claims.  One-third of the fund was dedicated to help compensate for properties that could not be physically restituted.  In March 2006, the NFOH announced it had concluded payments for such private claims, totaling more than $4 million, to some 500 claimants residing in 27 countries.  Approximately one-third of the fund was designated for maintenance of communal properties, and the final third was designated for NGO-administered social and health care programs for approximately 500 Holocaust survivors and commemoration and education projects.  In 2015‑2019, the government contributed an additional 100 million Czech koruna ($7.7 million) for social care and education.

In 2017, the Ministry of Culture designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov (in eastern Czech Republic), which itself was designated as a cultural monument in 2016.  Gravestones from the cemetery, where approximately 2000 Jews were buried, were removed during World War II and either ground into gravel for roads or distributed to local residents for use as building material.  The site is now a public park.  A U.S. philanthropist-funded proposal to partially restore the cemetery, at first supported by the city, has become controversial and sparked a wave of anti-Semitic speech and threats in a local newspaper and in social media.  The U.S. Department of State continues to monitor the situation closely, keeping in contact with the U.S. philanthropist and the Federation of Jewish Communities, which is currently negotiating with the city.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Following adoption of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998, the Czech Ministry of Culture tasked all public galleries and museums to carry out provenance research in their collections.  A database of 7,500 pieces of art believed to have belonged to Holocaust victims was created and opened to the public.  Collections of major public galleries (National Gallery in Prague, Moravian Gallery, and the Decorative Arts Museum) were fully searched; other public collections were partially searched.  There is no legal requirement for private galleries and collections to follow suit.  Respected international auction houses with branches in the Czech Republic conduct provenance research.

The 2000 law on Jewish property restitution (Act No. 212) also allows for restitution of works of art with no deadline for filing claims.  Unlike other restitution laws, it does not require the claimants to hold Czech citizenship.  However, the rules for identifying who is an heir are considerably more restrictive than in the Czech civil code, and objects that have been restituted are subject to export restrictions.  In 2012, the Czech Ministry of Culture established the “Centre for Documentation of Culture Property Transfers of World War II Victims,” a public benefit institution dedicated to documentation of confiscated works of art belonging to Holocaust victims.  It is the successor organization to a documentation center established under the Czech Academy of Sciences in 2001, based on the recommendation by a joint expert commission formed by the Czech Government three years earlier.  It conducts historic research of legal and administrative mechanisms of art confiscations, publishes its findings, and organizes expert conferences.  Recently, it started offering assistance to claimants.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

While most Judaica and Jewish cultural property in the areas occupied by Nazi Germany after the Munich Accords of September 1938 were destroyed during Kristallnacht two months later, a majority of Judaica and liturgical objects from Jewish communities in the Nazi-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were assembled in a central depository in Prague, managed by the Jewish Central Museum.  The Museum, nationalized in 1950, was returned to the Federation of Jewish Communities in 1994.  It has the largest collection of Judaica of any Jewish museum in the world, carries out provenance research, and has restituted various items.  The Jewish Museum continues to screen catalogues of international auction houses to locate Judaica of Czech Jewish communities looted during the war and has received items from the United States and elsewhere.  It currently has an outstanding claim against a U.S. citizen, who has in his possession a manuscript that belonged before the war to a Jewish community in the (now) southeast of the Czech Republic.  The Jewish Museum in Prague produced an acclaimed traveling exhibition, “The Precious Legacy:  Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections.”  The collection contained many items that had been confiscated by Nazi Germany for a planned “Museum to an Extinct Race.”

The National Library in Prague has restituted manuscripts, but it still possesses large numbers of looted books.

Access to Archival Documents

Official archives of the Czech Republic are open to the public with no restrictions.  Files related to the Holocaust period are located in the archival collections of the Czech National Archives, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, and regional and local archives.  Claimants have unlimited access to various archival documents that could be relevant to prove ownership.  National and regional archival institutions have cooperated on a long-term basis with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and enabled copying of large collections of archival documents pertaining to Nazi occupation for the research purposes.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

The Czech Republic is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Czech law designates January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  On this day, official remembrance ceremonies attended by Czech government leadership are held in Prague, Terezin (including the site of the Theresienstadt Ghetto and concentration camp), and other cities.  The main event is convened annually by the Czech Senate and includes speeches by high-level politicians, such as the Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Jewish community officials, and Holocaust survivors.

Other ceremonies are held in various locations throughout the country marking different anniversaries or significant dates related to the Holocaust in the Czech Republic.  For instance, in October there is a ceremony at the Prague Bubny railway station to commemorate the beginning of deportation of Czech Jews to the Theresienstadt camp.  Bubny Station was the departure point for transports carrying tens of thousands of Prague’s Jewish inhabitants to Nazi ghettoes, concentration camps, and extermination camps.  On January 27, 2019, the Czech Parliament adopted a resolution codifying a new definition of anti-Semitism based on the definition adopted by the IHRA in 2016.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

According to law No. 255 of 1946, Czech citizens who were persecuted for political, racial, or religious reasons during World War II are entitled to a special monthly supplement to their pensions.  A different law (Act 2017 of 1994) provided for lump-sum payments to victims of Nazi persecution.  Law 170/2002 provides for payments to war veterans for medical or recreation treatment and includes people persecuted for political, racial, or religious reasons.  There are also various social benefits that are generally available to senior citizens, including housing and social need allowances.

In addition to funds from the NFOH for health and social care, Czech Holocaust survivors also receive payments from various programs of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, including the Health Fund, Fund of Emergency Assistance, and Centre and East European Fund.

Poland

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Private Property

In the 1960s, the government signed bilateral agreements in which Poland transferred money to certain foreign governments to cover foreign citizen claims for private property losses sustained after 1939. Among these agreements was the 1960 U.S.-Poland indemnification agreement, based on which Poland transferred $40 million to the U.S. government to cover claimants who were U.S. citizens at the time their property was wrongfully seized. This agreement did not cover those who were Polish citizens at the time their property was seized and only later became naturalized U.S. citizens; it therefore excluded most Polish Holocaust survivors and their families.

In 1999, the Polish government proposed a private property bill that would have provided a percentage of the current fair market value to anyone who had lost property during WWII or the Communist period.  The Polish parliament, however, amended the bill to limit its application only to current Polish citizens, and the bill was vetoed in 2001 by then President Kwasniewski as a result.  The Polish government reports that as of April 2019, it has paid approximately $2.29 billion in compensation to claimants of various nationalities via an assortment of legal instruments and procedures legislated since 1989, including the physical return of some original or in-kind property.  Of this $2.29 billion, according to the government, approximately 4.5 billion zloty ($1.2 billion) went to settlements arising under the 2005 “Bug River” law, and 1.2 billion zloty ($338.7 million) went to settlements under legal provisions specifically governing Warsaw (both are further described below).

[Note: For cases involving private rather than communal property, the government does not generally track the religion of claimants; these figures therefore include restitution to Holocaust victims and other victims of WWII and the Communist period.]

In 2005, in response to a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, Poland enacted the “Bug River” law providing for compensation for private property lost by Polish owners who resided in territory that became part of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, or Ukraine as a result of Poland’s post-WWII border changes.  The  legislation obligated the government to create a register of all eligible claimants and pay compensation at 20 percent of a property’s value at the time of taking.  Eligible claimants were property owners (or heirs) who were Polish citizens on September 1, 1939, who left the affected territory, and who retained their Polish citizenship.  Holocaust survivors, their families, and any others who did not retain their Polish citizenship were excluded.  By the December 2008 filing deadline, 91,845 claims had been submitted under the law.  The Ministry of Interior and Administration reported that by the end of February 2019, the government had paid compensation for 74,058 claims worth approximately 4.5 billion zloty ($1.2 billion).

Poland does not have a separate mechanism or process to address private property claims other than the “Bug River” or Warsaw areas. The World Jewish Restitution Organization estimates that a total of 2.55 billion zloty ($680 million) has been paid to claimants for all property within the current borders of Poland for areas outside of Warsaw. Claimants in Poland may pursue restitution through administrative court proceedings or through settlement agreements with municipal governments or the national treasury. In practice, in order to succeed, claimants must seek nullification of Communist nationalizations by demonstrating that a procedural flaw occurred. Some American citizen claimants have reported that the process is cumbersome, lengthy, costly, and ineffective. They report that the process is particularly difficult for heirs to claims that were made by parents or grandparents who died without receiving compensation for their looted, confiscated, or nationalized property.

In 2016, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal upheld legislation passed in 2015 designed to prevent those publicly owned properties in Warsaw that previously had been privately owned from being returned to their pre-Communist era owners. The law sought to terminate 70-year-old claims that had remained unresolved due to the inability to determine the parties to the proceedings. Some outside observers, as well as American citizen claimants and their lawyers, reported that the administration of the law makes it almost impossible for claimants successfully to reclaim their property. Specifically, some claimants have said that the law did not allow enough time to complete succession (inheritance) proceedings in Polish courts, which the law requires, despite the fact that in other circumstances Polish inheritance law recognizes heirs as determined under U.S. law.

In March 2017, parliament passed a law establishing a government commission to investigate accusations of corruption in private property restitution in Warsaw. The law authorized the commission to: (1) issue a decision confirming a restitution decision; (2) partially or entirely annul a restitution decision and issue a different decision; (3) annul a restitution decision in its entirety and send the case back to the appropriate institution for review; (4) publicly declare that a restitution decision was made in violation of the law if circumstances made it impossible for the commission to reverse a decision they determine was made illegally; and (5) discontinue current restitution cases. In June 2018, the commission reported it had reviewed 593 restitution cases and issued 74 decisions during its first 12 months of operation. The commission chair estimated the commission’s actions returned property valued at approximately 700 million zloty ($184 million) to the City of Warsaw. Administrative and court decisions have slowed as a result of this review process, causing some outside observers – including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs – to argue that the commission had a negative effect on private and communal property restitution cases.

In 2017, the Justice Ministry proposed a new comprehensive, national private property restitution law. The draft law would have: (1) blocked any physical return of remaining properties (whether privately or publicly owned); (2) provided compensation in cash or government bonds of 20 to 25 percent of the property’s value at the time of taking; and (3) set a one-year filing period for claims. The draft law limited claimants to current Polish citizens who had been Polish citizens at the time their property was seized or their direct heirs. Some outside observers expressed concern that the proposed legislation would have effectively excluded foreign claimants, many of whom were Holocaust survivors or their heirs. In 2018, the chair of the Standing Committee of the Council of Ministers withdrew the legislation on the grounds that it needed further revision and analysis, including with regard to questions about its potential costs and compliance with national and international law.

Communal and Religious Property

Poland has laws enabling the restitution of certain communal religious property. The process, while incomplete, has allowed for the return of many synagogues.

Four joint commissions oversee communal religious property restitution claims that were submitted by the filing deadlines, one each for the Jewish community, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. (A fifth joint commission related to property of the Catholic Church is addressed below.) The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution of property to religious communities nationalized during or after WWII. The law governing such restitution does not, however, address communal properties that the Communist regime sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII. The Ministry of Interior and Administration and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions. Although the law provides that decisions by the commission on communal property claims may not be appealed, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. The Department of State is not aware of any reports of parties filing such appeals.

The 1997 Act on the Relations between the State and Jewish Religious Communities in the Republic of Poland regulates the restitution of Jewish communal property. According to the Ministry of Interior and Administration, as of December 2018, the Jewish communal property restitution commission had partially or entirely resolved 2,810 of the 5,554 claims filed by the Jewish community by the 2002 filing deadline. According to the Foreign Ministry, the commission has awarded 88 million zloty ($23 million) in compensation to Jewish religious communities since its establishment. Some Jewish community representatives report that the pace of Jewish communal property restitution is slow, involves considerable legal expense, and often ends without recovery of property or other compensation for claimants.

By comparison, the Catholic Church joint property commission had resolved all but 216 of its 3,063 claims by 2011. According to the Ministry of Interior and Administration, the remaining religious community property commissions resolved 87 communal property claims in 2018, leaving unresolved more than 3,000 of the 7,000 claims filed by other religious groups. At the end of 2018, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved 989 of 1,200 claims by the Lutheran community, 268 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 87 of 170 claims by all other denominations.

The laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties that are now privately owned, and outside observers argue that the government has left several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. For example, a number of buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. Experts on communal property assess that all of the straightforward Jewish communal property cases have been resolved; they note that the Jewish communal property restitution commission is unable to proceed with most of the remaining claims, as the government does not agree that the properties fall under the definition of a religious communal property. Several claims awarded to the Jewish community during the last two years remained unpaid as of mid-2019.

Cemeteries

The devastation and human toll of Nazi-perpetrated crimes during the Holocaust left most of Poland’s more than 1,200 Jewish pre-WWII cemeteries with no surviving Jewish population to care for them.  The restitution of Jewish cemeteries on land owned by local municipalities or the national treasury falls under the Jewish communal property joint commission.  Cemeteries are returned to the local Jewish community if one exists nearby, or to the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland if no local community remains.  The Union transfers these burial grounds to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, a partnership of the Union and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.  Some Jewish community representatives have argued that Jewish cemeteries are part of Poland’s cultural heritage and that the national government should take over ownership, restoration, and preservation of such sites around the country.  In December 2017, the national parliament allocated 100 million zloty ($28.7 million)  to the Cultural Heritage Foundation to subsidize an endowment  to restore, preserve, and maintain the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

A 1959 law on cemeteries and burials requires that a religious community give permission before its cemetery area can be used for any other purpose. However, conflicts persist over the use of Jewish cemeteries that were nationalized during the Communist era. For example, in 2018, an issue arose regarding the commercial utilization of parts of a historic cemetery in Siemiatycze that was no longer listed as a cemetery in current land records.

In July 2017, the General Inspector of Monuments of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (Culture Ministry) provided official guidelines to all provincial governors and inspectors of monuments for strengthening the protection of Jewish cemeteries. In August 2017, the Act on Stewardship of Historical Monuments was amended to require that provincial inspectors of monuments approve the sale, exchange, donation, or lease of land owned by the national or local governments that encompasses or includes historic cemeteries in order to prevent commercial construction on the sites of former Jewish cemeteries. Also in 2017, the Culture Ministry – in cooperation with the National Heritage Board of Poland, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Jewish Historical Institute, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland – began the first full inventory and verification of historical boundaries of all Jewish cemeteries in Poland. In 2018, the Culture Ministry instituted a project to place markers designating the boundaries of Jewish cemeteries and to place a memorial stone featuring a plaque declaring the site to be a Jewish cemetery. By February 2019, the Culture Ministry had completed the project for six Jewish cemeteries out of an estimated 1,200 in the country.

Heirless Property

Poland has not passed a law to address the significant amount of private property left heirless by the Holocaust. Instead, heirless property is governed by Polish inheritance law, which requires that such property be returned to the local municipality or national treasury. According to the government, Poland began immediately after WWII to reconcile the legal status of property left by owners, including Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, under a series of decrees regulating derelict and abandoned property, as part of the overall nationalization of private property under the post-war Communist regime.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

The Culture Ministry’s Department for Cultural Heritage Abroad and Wartime Losses is responsible for the recovery of Nazi-looted artwork, libraries, and cultural heritage items taken from inside the post-WWII borders of Poland. The Department for Cultural Heritage Abroad maintains a catalogue of some 100,000 such objects and an online “Database of Objects Lost as a Result of World War II” containing more than 60,000 items. The catalogue does not note whether the objects were destroyed, survived, or were looted from Jews. There have been a number of successful restitutions of artworks from abroad to Poland in recent years.

The Culture Ministry is responsible for handling claims by foreign governments for art inside Polish state-owned museums that may have been looted, but it is not clear that this includes Nazi-looted art from other countries or claims by private parties. Such artworks are in Poland as the result of the Nazi art market during the war. The Department of State is not aware of any claims by foreign parties for Nazi-looted art in Polish museums.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

There is no law in place covering the restitution of Jewish-owned cultural and religious movable property. Cultural institutions in Poland generally do not conduct provenance research on their own collections and, in the few cases where they have done so, did not make the findings publicly available. In 2012, the Yearbook Muzealnictwo (Museology) published a set of guidelines outlining how provenance research in regard to looted cultural objects should be carried out. According to art restitution experts, while the guidelines were received by Polish museums, no concrete actions followed. The total amount of confiscated or destroyed Jewish owned cultural property in Nazi-occupied Poland has not been documented and is therefore unknown.

Much of the Judaica that ended up in what is now Polish territory was turned over by the Polish government to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. According to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), some artworks and artifacts that originally belonged to foreign Jewish communities are held there. In particular, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, Greece has requested the return of Nazi-looted ritual objects and artifacts. Periodically, the Institute has exhibited certain items, and the Institute includes on its website: “A significant part of the collection of sacred art of the Jewish Historical Institute is the legacy of Greek Jews murdered in the extermination centers at Auschwitz and Majdanek.”

Access to Archival Documents

Poland has an extensive and accessible network of local and national archives. Jewish community representatives reported no issues with free access to archival documents. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports good cooperation with archives in Poland, including the Head Office of the State Archives, the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Oswiecim, Warsaw’s POLIN Museum, and a number of regional and university archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Poland has made a serious commitment to Holocaust commemoration; the government funds museums and monuments, including eight state memorial museums at former Nazi German concentration and extermination camps operated in occupied Poland. Poland planned to host a major international commemoration event in January 2020 to observe the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camps.

Poland has statutorily mandated Holocaust education requirements for students beginning in the fifth grade and continuing through the end of high school. According to an official at the POLIN Museum, the Ministry of National Education’s Holocaust education requirements specify that students in grades five through eight should be able to do the following: characterize Nazi German policy in occupied Europe; explain the extermination of Jews, Roma, and other ethnic groups; and cite examples of heroism of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

At the high school level, students should be able to present the ideological background leading to the extermination of Jews and other ethnic and social groups by Nazi Germany; characterize the stages of the extermination of Jews (discrimination, stigmatization, isolation, and annihilation); recognize the main places of extermination, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and Sobibor; describe the attitude of Jews towards the Holocaust, including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and characterize the attitudes of Polish society and the international community towards the Holocaust, including the “Righteous Among the Nations,” by using examples. A report by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides further details on the Holocaust education requirements in public schools.

The Ministry of National Education appointed a Holocaust Education Advisory Council in January 2018. The council is managed by the ministry’s Plenipotentiary for Polish-Jewish Relations and is composed of experts in the field of Holocaust education. The government also organizes and/or funds several Holocaust education programs outside of school, including exchange programs for teachers organized by Yad Vashem and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

Some outside observers argue that the time allotted for Holocaust education – one to two hours per year per grade – is insufficient for students to understand the Holocaust, its causes, and consequences. Additionally, some argue that the government has inserted a specific historical narrative into the curriculum, such as mandating that teachers only use the examples of Righteous Among the Nations awardees when discussing the actions of Polish citizens during the Holocaust.

Poland’s 1999 Act on the Protection of Former Nazi Death Camps extended legal protection to eight Holocaust memorials in Poland and established state or local museums at each site. These include the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the State Museum at Majdanek, the Museum and Memorial Site in Sobibor, the Museum and Memorial Site at Belzec, the Stutthof Museum, the Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoznica, the Treblinka Museum, and the Museum of the Former German Kulmhof Death Camp.

The Culture Ministry supervises and finances seven of the eight museums and provides support for the Museum of the Former German Kulmhof Death Camp. Additionally, the Culture Ministry funds several Holocaust memorial-related museums, including the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, which recounts the 1,000-year heritage of Jews in Poland, and the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II, located in Markowa. The Culture Ministry is also working on plans for two additional Holocaust memorial museums, including the Warsaw Ghetto Museum and the KL Plaszow Memorial Site at the former KL Plaszow Nazi labor camp, in Krakow. From 2017 to 2018, the Culture Ministry allocated 287 million zloty ($76 million) in grants for projects related to Jewish culture, of which 161 million zloty ($42.3 million) was allocated for Holocaust museums and memorials.

Poland is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2000, then-Prime Minister Buzek announced the establishment of the International Auschwitz Council, which advises the country’s Council of Ministers on the preservation and function of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and other Holocaust memorials. Top national government officials, including the President and the Prime Minister, participate in annual remembrance ceremonies, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

Poland allocates public funds to support Holocaust survivors. In 2014, Poland enacted a law that provides a monthly pension to Holocaust survivors from the country, wherever they reside, equivalent to the amount the government provides to pensioners in Poland. The 1991 Act on Combatants and Victims of War and Post-war Repression authorized allowances for eligible WWII combatants and victims of repression. As part of that law, survivors who were incarcerated in ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps, and death camps were eligible to receive cash benefits, including pension and disability allowances. The Foreign Ministry reported in mid-2019 that the government had paid 28.4 billion zloty ($7.5 billion) in pensions and disability since the law was enacted. These benefits are also available for qualified survivors who were Polish citizens during the Holocaust and later emigrated, although some lawyers representing eligible U.S. citizens have reported that it is difficult to apply for these benefits. Difficulties include evidentiary requirements for survivors who already have been recognized as survivors by Germany, the Claims Conference, or Israel. The requirement to produce additional documentation is particularly difficult for Holocaust survivors who may have lost their documents during the war. Additionally, certain categories of victims – including people who survived in hiding – are excluded.

Many Polish citizens benefitted from an agreement negotiated by the U.S. government with the German government in July 2000 that included compensation for certain slave and forced laborers. Of the 10 billion DM (worth approximately $5 billion at that time) Germany paid out worldwide under this agreement, the Polish government received 1.812 billion DM (approximately $906 million, using 2000 conversion rates) for payments to surviving former slave and forced laborers still living in Poland as of 2000. According to the final report of Germany’s “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation,” the Polish partner organization implementing the agreement in Poland made payments to 483,902 people. Experts estimate that the vast majority of beneficiaries were likely non-Jewish forced laborers, based on the relatively small number of Jewish slave laborers believed to have survived the war and still be alive and resident in Poland in 2000.

Slovenia

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Restitution cases involving private property confiscated after 1946 were subject to procedures under the Criminal Procedure Act.  Cases involving private property nationalized by the Communists were subject to restitution procedures under the Denationalization Act of 1991.  The 1991 act required claimants to have had Yugoslav citizenship at the time their property was confiscated.  Given such requirements, Jewish property owners and their heirs were largely unable to file claims under the act.

Some Holocaust survivors and their relatives, along with Slovene deportees, were able to reclaim property confiscated before 1945, but NGOs and advocacy groups report that the government has not made sufficient progress on the resolution of Holocaust-era claims.  These reports come from former citizens who were required to renounce Yugoslav citizenship as a condition for emigrating and Holocaust survivors from Yugoslavia and their heirs who did not return and thus never had Yugoslav citizenship.  Some cases involving the restitution of property seized during the Communist era (especially from 1946 to 1958) remain unresolved, but nearly all denationalization cases are finalized.

In many instances, courts had already deemed Jewish property heirless after the war, before the heirs of those who perished were able to return.  Moreover, Slovenians who emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1950 were pressured to renounce their Yugoslav citizenship and forfeit their property to the state as a prerequisite to leaving the country.

Many eligible property owners and their heirs living abroad did not file claims under the Denationalization Act because they did not receive adequate notice before the claims deadline.  Those who did file claims faced a process that suffered from a lack of trained personnel and inadequate ownership records, which resulted in a lack of transparency and inconsistent decisions.

The government asserts that nearly all of Slovenia’s Holocaust-era restitution claims have been closed.  Most Holocaust-era claims are categorized as heirless property, however, for which there is no provision in law for restitution or compensation.  The extermination of entire families in Slovenia left substantial property without heirs to claim it.

In 2018, the WJRO and the Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to establish the scope of heirless properties in the country.  The research teams expected to complete the study by the end of 2019.

The Department is unaware of outstanding restitution claims from U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors or family members of Holocaust victims.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

The Department is not aware of any outstanding issues with movable property.  In 2014, the Ministry of Culture made an inquiry across state museums and art galleries but did not find Nazi‑confiscated or looted art.  Provenance research has begun through Slovenia’s participation in the EU-sponsored project “TransCultAA – Transfer of Cultural Objects in the Alpe Adria Region in the 20th Century,” but there continue to be difficulties with access to archival sources such as those concerning the distribution by the Communist regime of art looted during WWII.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

Judaica in Slovenia has for the most part been identified, partly in cooperation with the Center for Jewish Art of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The Department is not aware of any outstanding issues with Judaica and Jewish cultural property, and there is no law specifically addressing the restitution of cultural property.

Access to Archival Documents

Slovenian archives are generally open and accessible to the public without restrictions.  In 2014, amendments to the Act on the Protection of Documentary and Archival Material and Archives introduced some limitations on the use of personal data and information on individuals.  In July 2018, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia signed a cooperation contract to grant the museum’s representatives access to and the ability to reproduce material in Slovenia’s archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and supports IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.  Government officials attend International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide events on December 9.  The government also observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.

Holocaust education is required in schools.  Schools use a booklet published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the Holocaust education curriculum to create awareness of the history of Jews and anti-Semitism in Europe before WWII and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  The material also emphasizes the responsibility to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The Mini Teater (Mini Theater) in Ljubljana, established in 1999, houses the Jewish Cultural Center, which the local Jewish community also uses as a synagogue.  The Mini Teater seeks to raise Jewish culture and history awareness through Jewish-themed theater performances and its annual Festival of Tolerance.  In an April 2019 meeting with the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and WJRO representatives, the Center’s director noted preparations for an exhibition on Ljubljana victims of the Holocaust and plans to install “Stolpersteins” (“stumbling stones”) in the cities of Murska Sobota and Lendava.  These stumbling stones are concrete cubes bearing brass plates inscribed with the names and birth and death dates of Slovenian victims of the Holocaust.  The Center, which receives no government funding, also includes a museum and the country’s only Holocaust memorial.

The national government proclaimed the Maribor Synagogue in the city of Maribor as a museum of national importance, and the city financially supports its operations and maintenance.

The Museum of Tržič administers a museum at the location of the Ljubelj labor camp, the only labor camp in Slovenia during WWII.  The Ljubelj camp had approximately 1,300 prisoners at any given time during 1943-1945; inmates worked in appalling conditions with high mortality rates to build the Ljubelj tunnel.  At least 14 Jews were documented as prisoners in the Ljubelj camp.  Ministry of Justice contacts assessed the current museum is in poor condition.  The government is renovating the museum and plans to add a remembrance room with information on the victims.  The government also plans to train tour guides and provide translation of the museum’s materials into several foreign languages.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

Ministry of Justice contacts reported that Holocaust survivors, including those living abroad, were eligible to claim social welfare benefits such as health insurance, recognition of pensionable service, entitlement to a pension, compensation for war damages, a monthly annuity, and priority for allocation of social housing through the Act on Victims of War Violence, which has no statute of limitations.  Ministry contacts, however, were unaware of any such claims.

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