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Greece

Overview

The Jewish communities of Greece are amongst the oldest in Europe, dating back more than 2,000 years.  Of the estimated 71,600 Jews who lived in Greece at the time of the 1941 Nazi invasion, at least 58,885 perished in the Holocaust.  Most Jews lived in Thessaloniki, formerly known as Salonika, which had been the religious and cultural hub for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.  Between March and early June 1943, the Germans deported 48,974 Jews, most from Salonika, to Auschwitz where nearly all perished.  In addition, Bulgarian authorities deported more than 4,000 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied parts of Greece to Treblinka.

From September 1943, Italian forces occupied Athens and parts of Greece but were not engaged in the mass murder of Jews.  Thousands of Jews who resided in the Nazi-occupied areas fled to the relatively safer Italian zone, causing the Jewish population of Athens to rise from 3,500 before the war to as many as 10,000.  After the Italians surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, the Nazis occupied all of Greece and began deporting Jews from Athens in April 1944.  The Nazis also deported Jews from other communities of the mainland, as well as from the ancient Jewish communities on Greek islands, by summer 1944.

Approximately 10,000 Greek Jews survived the Holocaust, many due to assistance from other Greek citizens and Greek Orthodox Church leaders.  Yad Vashem has named more than 200 Greeks as “Righteous Among the Nations.”  Comprehensive statistics on Holocaust survivors, however, are not available because an undefined number of Holocaust survivors left for Israel and the United States after World War II (WWII).

Post-war Greek governments put Greek war criminals and collaborators on trial, including three prime ministers installed by the Nazis.  In 2014, Holocaust negation and denial was made illegal, punishable by jail and fines.  Descendants of Greek Holocaust survivors have been eligible for Greek citizenship since 2017.

According to the World Jewish Congress, Greece is currently home to between 4,300 and 6,000 Jews.  In Thessaloniki, as of mid-2019, there were 94 remaining Holocaust survivors, including 12 who spent time in Nazi concentration camps.  Holocaust survivors in Greece do not receive a special government allowance, but they do receive social welfare benefits available to Greek citizens facing health-related vulnerabilities, disability, or poverty.  Established in 1945, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece is the umbrella organization for the Jewish community in the country; it allocates resources to rehabilitation programs for Jewish citizens.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Greece initiated several directives and restitution laws at the end of WWII.  In 1944, the Greek government was the first European government to state clearly that Greece should under no circumstances benefit from abandoned or confiscated Jewish property.

Greece was among the first countries to enact private property restitution legislation.  On October 27, 1944, the liberated Greek government enacted Law No. 2/1944 providing for the return of all properties originally belonging to Jews.  On May 23, 1945, Compulsory Law No. 337/1945, concerning the Annulment of Law 205/1944 regarding the Administration of Jewish Properties Abandoned or Impounded by the Occupation Authorities, was passed.  On December 31, 1945, Compulsory Law 808/1945 ordered the immediate return of Jewish property by the trustees to the original owners.  Communal property was returned to the Jewish community in Greece under the same set of laws applicable to private property restitution.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece allocates resources to rehabilitation programs for Jewish citizens.  To supplement the Central Board’s work, the Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of the Israelites of Greece (OPAIE) was founded in 1949.  OPAIE administers formerly Jewish-owned property left heirless after the Holocaust era.  It allocates resources to the Central Board for community‑rehabilitation programs and acts as the successor organization for all Jewish heirless property in the country.

The most emblematic case in which the physical return of property was not feasible was addressed in 2011 through the passage of Law No. 3943, under which the Greek government agreed to pay €10 million (the equivalent of $14 million in 2011) to the Jewish community of Thessaloniki as compensation for the Nazi destruction of the city’s historic Jewish cemetery.  After WWII, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki was built on part of the cemetery’s land.  The Jewish community relinquished its claim to the property as part of the settlement.

Greece passed heirless property legislation related to the Holocaust in 1946.  Emergency Law 846/1946 on the Abolition of the Right of the Greek State to Inherit Jewish Property prevented Greece from assuming title for heirless Jewish properties.  In Greece, property generally reverts to state ownership when there are no heirs to claim it.

OPAIE claims more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war are now used as government facilities.  In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of OPAIE for one of these properties in the city of Rhodes that had been unlawfully registered and claimed as state property.  In 2019, the Jewish community and the Ministry of Finance agreed to jointly review, register, assess, and negotiate the disposition of other Rhodes properties through out‑of‑court settlements.  An intergovernmental committee has been formed to examine similar cases throughout the country.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Greece has conducted research on archaeological sites and artifacts that were plundered by the Nazis.  The resulting information has not been made public so as to limit the risk of underground markets in these objects.  Greece was the host of the fourth workshop of the European Shoah Legacy Institute’s Provenance Research Training Program, which was held in Athens in June 2014.  Provenance research, however, is still limited at museums and other cultural institutions in Greece.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens holds a few looted Judaica objects, with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece being responsible for these items.  So far as is known, no provenance research is being conducted on Judaica holdings in Greece’s other cultural institutions.

The Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw holds a number of religious artifacts that are reported to have been stolen from Greek Jews by the Nazis and found in the Eckersdorf Castle in Lower Silesia.  These items included ritual objects used as important accessories for religious observance (mainly rimonim, which are the decorated finials or end pieces used to adorn a sacred Torah scroll, and me’ilim, which are decorative traditional outer coverings for the Torah).  The Thessaloniki community requested the return of these items, but upon investigation, it became clear that the objects held in Warsaw were from all over Greece, not only Thessaloniki.  As a result, an understanding was reached that the objects should be sent to Athens and then distributed within the country.  To date, there have been no known successful restitution claims.

Greece endorsed the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.  It is also a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics.

Access to Archival Documents

The country’s most significant loss of Jewish cultural property relates to the looted archives of Jewish communities in Athens, Ioannina, Larissa, Volos, Didymoteicho, Kavala, and Thessaloniki.  Most of these archives are believed to be in the Russian State Military Archive in Moscow.  The Jewish community of Thessaloniki has a pending case against the Russian government for the return of these archives.

Access to Greek state and military archival material is relatively unhindered.  Some issues pertinent to the copying, transfer, and retention of archival documents outside of Greece are under review.

Other available archival resources include the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki’s 2009 published list of more than 37,500 names of the tens of thousands of Jews deported to concentration camps from all over the country.  The Jewish Museum of Greece’s Oral History Archive contains oral testimonies of some 115 Holocaust survivors.

On May 7, 2019, the parliament passed legislation defining as “religious community archives” the entire archival material filed or processed, inter alia, at the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece and at the offices of individual Jewish communities.  The law directs that all religious community archives should be preserved in good condition, be accessible to the public, and be catalogued under the national directory for archives of the state archives authority.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Greece has dedicated resources to achieve Terezin Declaration goals, including the promotion of Holocaust education and remembrance.  Greece is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and will hold the IHRA chairmanship in 2021.  Government officials regularly participate in commemoration ceremonies, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.  As the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki began on March 15, 1943, that date is also recognized as a day of remembrance.  President Pavlopoulos officially opened the new wing of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki in October 2019, noting that it would serve “as a beacon for the fulfillment of the permanent duty to remember the Holocaust, at a time when admirers of Nazism and fascism are emerging again in Europe.”

Greece has multiple Holocaust memorials, many of which commemorate locations where Jews and other WWII victims were deported or killed, or where Jewish cemeteries, schools, or synagogues once stood.  Thessaloniki’s planned Holocaust Museum, for instance, will be built on the site of the old railway station where so many of the country’s Jews began their fatal journey to Auschwitz.

The public education curriculum includes Holocaust and human rights education.  For secondary school students, the Ministry of Education funds annual educational trips to Auschwitz.  Greek educators are encouraged to participate in Holocaust courses, such as the 2017 seminars developed by the Olga Lengyel Institute in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Greece and held under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.  In 2014, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki reestablished its department of Jewish Studies with funding from the local Jewish community.

Hungary

Overview

Hungary joined the Axis in November 1940.  The Hungarian government under Miklos Horthy obligated Jewish males to serve in labor battalions, which led to the deaths of at least 27,000 Jews in the early 1940s before the Nazis occupied the country in March 1944.  In the summer of 1941, Hungarian authorities deported some 20,000 Jews to Kamenets-Podolski in German-occupied Ukraine, where they were killed by Nazi Einsatzgruppen.  A few months after the German occupation of Hungary, Hungarian authorities and German security police began the systematic deportation of Hungarian Jews.  More than 440,000 were deported, with the majority sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  By the end of the war, of the approximately 825,000 Hungarian Jews identified in a 1941 census, only 255,000 survived.  Approximately 100,000 Jews currently reside in Hungary, primarily in Budapest, of whom an estimated 4,500 are Holocaust survivors.

The Hungarian government views itself as having completed Holocaust restitution for communal property, immovable private property, and Judaica.  However, international experts say concerns remain in the area of immovable private and heirless property and with restitution of looted art.

The 2011 religion law recognized three Jewish communities.  The largest is the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), which maintains most of the Jewish institutions.  The second is the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH, also called Status Quo Ante), which is affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch.  The smallest is the Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Religious Community (the Orthodox).  There are also two small Reform Jewish communities – Sim Shalom and Bet Orim – that the Hungarian government does not recognize.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, of which Hungary was a party, required heirless and otherwise unclaimed Jewish property to be returned to the Jewish community for “relief and rehabilitation” of Holocaust survivors and to help reinvigorate the Hungarian Jewish community.  Partial implementation did not begin until the transition from Communism in 1989-1990.  While the treaty specifically required Hungary to return heirless and unclaimed property, under Hungarian law, heirless property belongs to the state, not to the deceased’s community.  In 1993, the Constitutional Court directed the Hungarian government to implement the Paris Peace Treaty.

In 1997, the government established the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Public Endowment (Mazsok), which, together with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), distributes Holocaust-related compensation to surviving members of the Hungarian Jewish community within Hungary and abroad.  Mazsok also receives Hungarian government compensation for heirless property on behalf of the Jewish community and has a mandate to assist in the revitalization of Jewish cultural heritage and traditions in the country.  Mazsok’s board has 17 members, consisting of Hungarian Jews, government officials, and the WJRO.  The Hungarian government pays 58 million HUF (approximately $200,000) annually for the operation of Mazsok.

The WJRO negotiated with the Hungarian government in 2007 an interim $21 million payment, as an advance on an expected, subsequent agreement providing more comprehensive compensation for property formerly owned by Jews that was confiscated or nationalized during the Holocaust era and which was heirless or unclaimed.  Between 2007 and 2013, the Hungarian government distributed the $21 million it had pledged, transferring the funds to Mazsok to administer.  Mazsok distributed one-third to assist survivors currently living in Hungary and transferred two-thirds of the funds to the Claims Conference to fund social welfare services for needy survivors living outside of Hungary.

Since 2013, the WJRO has sought to resume negotiations with the Hungarian government to resolve outstanding Holocaust restitution issues in Hungary.  In August 2016, the Hungarian government sent to the WJRO its initial research report on the scope and estimated value of confiscated heirless property in the country.  A WJRO-appointed expert reviewed the report and identified substantial areas that required further research.  The Hungarian government agreed to fund the remaining research.  In April 2019, the WJRO presented the government with its assessment of its second set of research.  The next step is for WJRO and the Hungarian government to agree on a roadmap to conclude negotiations; however, the Hungarian government has not yet agreed to WJRO’s requests for further discussions on a roadmap.

As for religious and communal property, a 1991 law on the settlement of ownership of former real properties of churches provided that religious organizations could claim and use religious properties that had been taken after January 1946.  A 1997 amendment gave religious groups the option to apply for government-paid annuities in perpetuity, intended to represent the monetary value of their unrestored communal property.  In addition to obtaining the use of a number of buildings pursuant to the 1991 law as amended, Mazsihisz concluded an agreement in 1998 with the Hungarian government under which it waived its right to the remaining formerly Jewish‑owned communal properties confiscated during the Holocaust and/or nationalized after 1948, in exchange for a government annuity.  Until the 2011 religion law, Mazsihisz was considered the only representative of Hungarian Jewry and received the entire annuity.  In 2012, following the adoption of the religion law, the Hungarian government mediated an agreement among Mazsihisz, the Orthodox Jewish Community, and EMIH (the new law recognized the latter two) to share the annuity.  Jewish groups report that they consider communal property restitution complete.

Several laws from 1991 to 1992 dealt with the restitution of private property confiscated during World War II and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regime.  However, claimants faced numerous procedural challenges, including:  the problematic claims process for potential claimants of confiscated private property because no restitution of the items taken was possible; the small percentage of a property’s market value offered as compensation; citizenship and residence requirements that limited compensation to those who were Hungarian citizens at the time the property was seized or on the date of the law was enacted, or foreign nationals with a primary residence in Hungary in December 1990; the narrow definition of “heirs;” limited archival access and privacy laws that made ownership documents difficult to obtain; limited worldwide notification of the claims process; slow processing of claims; and payment delays.

During the private property restitution claims process, the Hungarian government issued compensation notes (vouchers) that claimants could use to buy state property, such as bonds, assets, shares in privatized companies, privatized real estate, and farmland at auction.  Claimants also could exchange compensation notes for annuities.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

Based on a government-sponsored commission report published in 1998, Hungary reports having lost more than 40,000 objects of art, including paintings, decorative art, and other objects, such as medals, during World War II.  Much of the artwork taken out of the country was returned between 1945 and 1948, with some of it remaining in Hungary’s cultural institutions and museums.  It is likely that some of the remaining art in Hungary’s possession was looted in areas occupied by Hungary during World War II.

Hungary endorsed the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art from 1998, which called for a “just and fair solution” to the heirs of looted works now in public collections.  Hungary has done research on looted art in its possession, and there is a database held by the National Gallery.  However, access to these sources is strictly classified, complicating efforts to return artworks and other cultural property.

The largest unsettled case of stolen art during and after World War II is the Herzog collection.  For more than two decades, Martha Nierenberg and her family have sought the return of artwork that belonged to their great-grandfather Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, a wealthy art collector.  Baron Herzog died in 1934, but his heirs hid the collection in the basement of a factory they owned.  Nazis and Hungarian officials discovered and looted the collection.  Some of the works ended up in the private collection of Adolf Eichmann; others were seized by the Soviets.  However, a large number of them are in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery, and other state-owned Hungarian museums.

Jewish groups report that the Hungarian government has returned all Judaica that it held.  In 2006, Russia returned to Hungary more than 100 antique books looted during and after World War II, including some from the 15th century that had been brought to the Lenin Scientific Library in Nizhny Novgorod from the Sarospatak Calvinist College in eastern Hungary; however, Jewish groups maintain that Russia continues to hold extensive amounts of Hungarian Judaica.

Access to Archival Documents

The Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives is one of Europe’s richest Jewish archival collections, holding materials dating from the founding of local communities at the end of the 18th century through the present, as well as other archival materials about Jewish values and history.  It is a public archive and belongs to Mazsihisz.  It has a permanent exhibition displaying the history of the Jewish quarter in Budapest, telling a story of more than 80 houses and their inhabitants between 1758 and today.  The Archives and the Budapest University of Jewish Studies together receive from the Hungarian government 160 million HUF (approximately $550,000) yearly as part of the support budgeted for cultural institutions.  Mazsihisz and EMIH both reported having good access to Hungarian Judaica objects, artifacts, and archival documents.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

In 2011, the Hungarian government changed the public education framework and centralized the textbook market.  Critics, including Jewish groups, Holocaust experts, and others, faulted the manner in which textbooks covered Holocaust and Jewish issues.  Jewish groups also were concerned that the textbooks would have rehabilitated anti-Semitic writers or other figures from the Horthy era.  In 2012, some teachers formed an education roundtable and worked closely with government officials who accommodated some of the teachers’ recommendations on how textbooks could better treat Jewish culture and World War II history.  In addition, works by pro‑Horthy writers did not become required reading material.  Mazsihisz and EMIH both reported that they were pleased with the corrections.

Hungary has been a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 2002 and twice chaired the organization, most recently in 2015.  At that time, Hungary was instrumental in helping IHRA succeed in changing the language of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation to ensure access to archives related to the Holocaust.

The Hungarian government opened the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center (HDKE, often called the Paiva Street Museum) in 2004.  The state-governed HDKE contains a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust in Hungary, research facilities, and a memorial site to Hungarian victims.  However, its future is unclear due to a low operational budget and the government’s plans to open another Holocaust museum called the House of Fates.  The government announced in 2013 that the new museum would open in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the deportations of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps, and that EMIH would own and run it.  However, strong opposition by Jewish communities, Jewish organizations, domestic and international scholars, and other governments led the Hungarian government to postpone the expected opening date to 2019.  The museum has not yet opened.  Those concerned about the new museum stressed the importance of ensuring that it accurately reflects the responsibility of World War II-era Hungarian leaders and some ordinary Hungarians for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.  In June 2019, after a request by the Hungarian delegation to the IHRA, the IHRA agreed to appoint a group of experts to provide input or suggestions to the international advisory board of the planned House of Fates museum.

Hungarian authorities in recent years have erected statues and other memorials for Horthy-era figures, although plans for one of these statues were canceled after generating international controversy.  The government also erected in 2014 a monument for the “victims of the German occupation,” which gave the impression that Hungarians had no involvement in the Holocaust and other atrocities during the war.  Jewish groups created a “living memorial” in front of the monument with photos and other memorabilia of relatives who perished.  This collection has been vandalized several times.

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

As of mid-2019, there were approximately 4,500 Holocaust survivors in Hungary.  On the basis of a 1993 law, the Hungarian government compensates persons who were unlawfully deprived of life and liberty.  Eligible persons are those whose relatives lost their lives between 1939 and 1989 due to politically motivated action by Hungarian authorities, those whose relatives died during deportation or Soviet-ordered forced labor, and those forced to perform labor due to racial, religious, or political reasons during World War II.  Hungary pays Holocaust survivors a monthly pension supplement on top of the pension they receive from the German government.  The Claims Conference also provides funding to assist Holocaust survivors living in Hungary through the Budapest-based Mazs (Hungarian Jewish Social Support Foundation).  These payments include stipends for home care, food, medical assistance, transportation, and other emergency services.  The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee established Mazs in 1991.

Moldova

Overview

Violent anti-Semitic movements in pre-World War II (WWII) Romania had their impact in its province of Bessarabia – the general region of contemporary Moldova.  The situation degenerated into government-directed pogroms and mass deportations leading to the concentration and extermination of Jewish citizens, according to the 2004 Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania chaired by Elie Wiesel.  By December 1941, Romanian forces with limited German participation had either killed the vast majority of Bessarabian Jews or deported them to concentration camps and ghettos located in Romanian‑occupied territory in southwestern Ukraine stretching all the way from the Dniester River to the Bug River, which Romania’s wartime regime labeled “Transnistria.”  The Wiesel Commission Final Report notes that in 1941, between 45,000 and 60,000 Jews were killed in Bessarabia and the former Bukovina, another former Romanian-administered province now divided between Ukraine and Romania.  An additional 105,000 to 120,000 Romanian Jews, mostly from Bessarabia, perished or were murdered following their expulsions into Romanian‑administered territory between the Dniester and Bug rivers.  While fewer than 1,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in Bessarabia, some 14,000 Bessarabian Jews survived incarceration in camps and ghettos in wartime Transnistria.  The Wiesel Commission Final Report cites some expert estimates that a total of approximately 200,000 Jews who lived in the territory that now falls within the Republic of Moldova were killed during the Holocaust.

According to the World Jewish Congress, between 7,500 and 20,000 Jews currently reside in Moldova.  The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany confirmed that it distributes financial assistance to approximately 466 Holocaust survivors in Moldova.

Despite recent progress in addressing longstanding issues important to the Jewish community in Moldova, the government has not enacted comprehensive restitution legislation for communal or private property confiscated during the Holocaust nor arranged for proper financial compensation to the Jewish community.  Moldova endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the related Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010.

Moldova became an observer country to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2014.  In January 2019, the government adopted a decision on “Condemning Anti‑Semitism and Promoting Tolerance” and approved for official use the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.  To date, the government has not announced any plans to upgrade from observer status to liaison member. 

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Moldova’s 1992 Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Reprisals mandates the restoration of rights and compensation for material damages for victims of the totalitarian regimes that controlled Moldovan territory between 1917 and 1992 and for citizens who were subject to reprisals based on political, national, religious, or social grounds.  The law specifically refers to private property restoration for victims of the Soviet regime but makes no mention of Holocaust-era property confiscations.  The 1992 law was the subject of several complaints sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on non-enforcement of domestic restitution and compensation awards.

The country does not have laws on restitution of communal property or Holocaust-era heirless property.  In Moldova, in cases where there are no legal heirs to property, ownership passes to the state.

Synagogues, Jewish community buildings, and other religious sites within the borders of the current Republic of Moldova suffered severe damage during the Holocaust from war actions as well as from anti-Semitic activity.  Much of what remained of these buildings was then destroyed, left to fall into disrepair, or repurposed for other activities during the Soviet period.  As a result, few pre-World War II synagogues remain in the country.  Jewish cemeteries have also been desecrated.  A 2010 report published by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad catalogued 100 Jewish communal properties in Moldova, including cemeteries, monuments, houses, hospitals, colleges, and other buildings.

A few properties, such as the Hay Synagogue in Chisinau and the Cahul Synagogue in Cahul, have been returned to the Jewish community.  In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief found that, in the absence of legislation, return of communal property in Moldova “differed according to religious community.”  The report noted that while some religious communities had received title over their confiscated properties through litigation or other means, the Moldovan Jewish community “had reportedly been forced to purchase back community properties.”  These included historic properties such as the Wooden (or Lemnaria) Synagogue and the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Yeshiva, both in Chisinau.

There are seven active synagogues in Moldova: one in Balti, two in Transnistria, and four in Chisinau.  In 2018, following a multi-year property dispute, the Jewish community received permits to rebuild the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Magen David Yeshiva in Chisinau, both of which had fallen into severe disrepair.  All seven synagogues hold religious services, host Jewish community activities, and provide meals for elderly community members.  The synagogues outside Chisinau serve small congregations and often cannot attract the quorum of 10 adult males needed for services, even on high holy days.  In August 2019, Jewish community members, officials, and diplomatic representatives attended the reopening of the Wooden Synagogue located within the Jewish Community Center (KEDEM) in Chisinau.

In October 2018, as part of the government’s 2017-2019 Action Plan to Implement the Declaration of the Parliament on Acceptance of the Elie Wiesel Commission’s Report on the Holocaust, the government approved the renovation of the Chisinau Jewish cemetery, the establishment of a National Holocaust Museum, and the introduction of a high school curriculum on historic lessons of the Holocaust.  According to the local Jewish community, the government has made substantial progress on fulfilling the Action Plan and has demonstrated an increased willingness to address concerns regarding the rehabilitation and preservation of the country’s Jewish cultural heritage.

Cemeteries in Moldova are public property, and the government is responsible for the protection, maintenance, and security of the tombstones and graves.  In 2018, Moldova rehabilitated Chisinau’s 30-acre Jewish cemetery that is one of the largest in Europe, with more than 40,000 graves.  The cemetery had languished in serious disrepair for years.  Jewish community representatives reported that the initial effort to rehabilitate the cemetery actually damaged or destroyed several gravestones.  The government approved a new contract for the maintenance of the cemetery, but no further work has commenced.  Most Jewish cemeteries across Moldova are not properly maintained or protected from acts of vandalism and natural deterioration.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

Moldova does not have laws on restitution of or compensation for movable communal or cultural property expropriated during the Holocaust, nor are there any official reports available on the status of any claims.  Jewish community members report that they do not believe Moldova conducts provenance research regarding art or other items that may have been confiscated or looted by the Nazis.  Moldova did not participate in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets.

The Department is not aware of any claims regarding Judaica or Jewish cultural property.

Access to Archival Documents

Government archives are open to the public.  Archives related to the Jewish community include birth, marriage, divorce, and death records; early censuses of the Jewish population; cartographic materials indicating home ownership; lists of merchants and traders; personal files of Jews who lived in and owned property at different time periods; documents containing property dispute decisions and sales; and documentation of forced labor by Jews in concentration camps.  In 2002, Moldova’s Security and Intelligence Service agreed to open part of its archives and allow the copying and transfer to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum of files on crimes perpetrated against the Jewish population in the territories of Moldova and Ukraine during WWII.  So far, there have been dozens of transfers amounting to several hundred thousand pages of documents under this agreement.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

As part of the 2017-2019 Action Plan referenced above, Moldova established January 27 as National Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Each year, Moldova organizes several events dedicated to the Holocaust, including exhibits, round tables, and other commemorations held during Holocaust remembrance week.  The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research developed an optional high school curriculum on the Holocaust, which was introduced during the 2019-2020 academic year.

In October 2018, Moldova announced plans for a Jewish Museum in Chisinau with an incorporated Jewish library and education center.  Discussions with the Jewish community over the location of the site are ongoing.

Poland

Overview

World War II began in Europe with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939.  Between 1939 and mid-1941, Nazi Germany occupied western Poland, while the Soviet Union, by agreement with Nazi Germany, occupied eastern Poland.  In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, bringing all of Poland under Nazi occupation.

The Nazi occupation of Poland was brutal, costing the lives of millions of Jewish and non-Jewish Poles.  According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Nazis established at least 700 ghettos and a network of concentration and death camps throughout occupied Poland. Scholars estimate that of Poland’s pre-war population of approximately 35,100,000 inhabitants, between 5.5 and 6 million people lost their lives during World War II (WWII), among them approximately three million Jews.  [Note:  Numbers vary in part due to lack of pre- and post-war census data, population transfers across borders, and post-war border shifts, as well as Communist-era censorship and restrictions to archival sources.]

The USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia estimates that at least three million Jewish Poles were murdered during the occupation, along with 1.8 to 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens.  Polish sources generally give a higher figure for non-Jewish Polish deaths, about three million. Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance states that, “before the outbreak of the war, about three million Jews lived in the territory of the Polish state, amounting to about 10 percent of the population of Poland at that time.  From that number, only about 300 thousand Jews survived.”  A further 1.5 million Poles were deported as forced laborers.

The Polish Government-in-Exile, formed in 1939 and based in London, joined the Allied powers, sponsored resistance to the Nazi occupation, and provided information to the Allies about crimes the Nazis perpetrated in occupied Poland.  While some individual Polish citizens participated in the killing of Jews, some others engaged in efforts to save Jews, at great personal risk, given that the Nazis treated such acts as punishable by death.  Yad Vashem has identified 6,992 Polish citizens as rescuers – known as Righteous Among the Nations – more than in any other country.

Much of Poland was destroyed during the war, including Warsaw, which the Nazis levelled after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.  In addition to the devastating human loss, material losses were estimated at more than $48 billion in pre-war dollars and included the destruction of historical antiquities and national treasures. At the end of the war, the Soviet Union annexed about a third of Poland’s pre-war eastern territory, forcing millions of Poles to abandon their property and move west.  The post-war Communist regime then nationalized private property and industry and complicated future property restitution efforts by building public infrastructure, public housing, and state-owned industries on wrongfully seized private and communal land.

Polish citizens lost significant property and assets during WWII and the Communist era.  The Nazi occupying regime specifically targeted Polish Jews for extermination and expropriation of all of their assets during the Holocaust.  While the Polish government maintains that it has implemented wide-ranging legislation, Poland is the only European Union member state with significant Holocaust-era property issues that has not passed a national comprehensive private property restitution law.  Holocaust survivors and their descendants who are American citizens report that the processes required to reclaim their private real property through the Polish court system or through settlements with the national or local governments are lengthy, cumbersome, costly, and largely ineffective.  Some have expressed frustration that even after the property is restituted, challenges by tenants or others prevent the full utilization of their property.

The government estimates that it has resolved about 45 percent of the approximately 5,500 claims filed for Jewish communal property; about half of the adjudicated cases were rejected.  Poland has not passed a law to address heirless Holocaust-era property.

Poland has made a serious commitment to Holocaust commemoration.  The government funds historical museums and monuments and eight state memorial museums at former Nazi concentration and death camps.

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.

Russia

Overview

Russia endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009, but due to a lack of data, it is difficult to assess the degree to which Russia has implemented restitution laws.  There are no known laws or special mechanisms enabling the return of, or compensation for, private property or heirless property confiscated or nationalized during the Holocaust era.  In 2010, Russia enacted laws on objects of cultural value and on the transfer of nationalized religious property to religious organizations.

Despite having the requisite legal framework in place for return of religious property, restitution of such property to the Jewish community has been slow in practice and few claims have been submitted.  Gaining access to archival documents or data on potentially sensitive topics related to political persecution or repression, including the Holocaust and Jewish history, remains difficult.  While it is complicated to assess how many Jews died in the Soviet Union during World War II, given that large numbers were evacuated to or fled to the interior of the Soviet Union after 1939, local sources estimate that up to 2 to 2.5 million Jews perished, including approximately 120,000 in the territory of the present-day Russian Federation.  (Information on Holocaust victims is available at www.ushmm.org.)  The Federation of Jewish Communities estimates that about one million Jews currently live in Russia, which exceeds the most recent government census tally of 200,000.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Russia’s 2010 law “On the transfer to religious organizations of property of religious purpose, which is in the state or in municipal property” defines the procedure for transferring such property to religious organizations and allows the possibility for religious communities to claim property that was nationalized by the Soviet Union.  The law stipulates that it does not apply to museum objects and collections included in the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation or to documents of the Archival or National Library funds.  Reportedly, until this law’s enactment, there was no clear legal mechanism for returning property to religious organizations despite the Russian government’s stated policy since the fall of the Soviet Union in favor of returning such property.  According to the 2017 Immovable Property Restitution Study by the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), as of 2007, the bulk of religious property (approximately 3,500 buildings) had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, while a small number of buildings had been returned to Jewish communities.  The head of the Russian Orthodox Church welcomed the adoption of the 2010 law as a step toward restoring justice for the Jewish community.

While Russia has enacted the requisite legal framework to enable restitution of religious property, some Jewish communities have faced significant challenges in practice and have filed relatively few claims overall.  This is especially true in places where significant Jewish premises, monuments, and cemeteries exist but where no community remains to pursue such claims.  A representative from the Jewish Community Center of St. Petersburg provided one example of a case in which a local Jewish community was successful in regaining access to religious premises.  Namely, in 2011, a historic synagogue that had been nationalized by the Communists was returned to the Jewish community in Bryansk.

There is no legislation or special mechanism in the country that addresses the restitution of or compensation for private property; the same is true for heirless property.

Cemeteries in Russia are public property, and local authorities are responsible for the protection, maintenance, and security of tombstones and graves.  Despite this obligation, some Jewish cemeteries in areas lacking large or well-organized Jewish communities are not well maintained or protected from acts of vandalism.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

After WW II, Soviet Trophy Brigades brought enormous numbers of artworks, library collections, and archives into the USSR, mostly to Moscow, from the Soviet-occupied areas of Germany and its allies as “compensatory restitution” for the huge losses of cultural property inflicted on Soviet territory.  These “trophy” objects included items that had been plundered from Jews and other victims of the Nazis.  Many, though not all, such items were returned to the governments of certain countries in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1998, Russia adopted a federal law “On the objects of cultural value transferred to the USSR as a result of the Second World War and located on the territory of the Russian Federation.”  The law stipulates “protection of the specified cultural values from plunder, prevention of their illegal export outside of the Russian Federation, as well as unlawful transfer.”  However, the law contains many exceptions under which no restitution is possible, including art that “belongs” to legal entities or museums.  In addition, the law specified that some art may stay in Russia as “partial compensation for damage caused to the cultural heritage of the Russian Federation as a result of the looting and destruction of its cultural property by Germany and its military allies.”

Russia initially expressed support for restitution of looted art and announced the return of one artwork following the issuance of the1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi‑Confiscated Art (Washington Principles).  The Russian ambassador to the United States in 1998 also made a statement supporting the return of looted art, urging “the entire world community to do everything possible to locate these cultural values and return them to the countries from which they were stolen.”  Since 1998, there has been some inventorying of looted property at Russian museums and libraries.  Some of this information is recorded in public databases, while the rest of the information remains largely inaccessible.

Despite a law passed by the Duma and signed by President Putin in 2000 in support of some of the major provisions of the Washington Principles, Russia retains Nazi-confiscated art.  The Department of State is unaware of any special, government-assisted process for identifying such works or handling claims.  Chabad of the United States has a long-running case in U.S. courts seeking recovery of the Schneersohn collection.  Some of these religious books and manuscripts were nationalized by the Soviet Union shortly after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, while others were first seized by the Nazis in Poland during World War II and later taken from the Nazis by the Red Army.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

Much Judaica looted by the Nazis and their allies was among the vast numbers of items brought to Russia after the war.  In addition to the holdings of the Russian State Military Historical Archive in Moscow (RGVA), Judaica brought to Russia is known to include Torahs and ceremonial objects.  RGVA returned some Judaica to the governments of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Austria.  RGVA reportedly has scanned parts of the Schneersohn collection it retains but has not made the documents accessible.  Meanwhile, the Russian State Library, which houses the majority of the Schneersohn collection, has made the books available online.

Access to Archival Documents

According to the GULAG History Museum and NGOs in Russia that conduct research on the Holocaust, ease of access to archives depends on the sensitivity of the topic and the entity requesting archival materials.  Access to archival documents on sensitive topics related to political persecution or repression, including the Holocaust and Jewish history, can be particularly difficult.  Individuals and NGOs viewed by the government as being critical of the government found it difficult to obtain data from archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Russia was among the group of states at the United Nations that initiated the effort to establish International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The government commemorates the day on January 27 with speeches by high-ranking government officials.  In 2014, Russia enacted a law making it a criminal offense to glorify Nazism or spread information contradictory to the government’s official stance about the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.  This law plays a role in the Russian government’s effort to shape the public’s memory of the Holocaust.

Most museums in Russia dedicated to Jewish culture or to the memory of victims of the Holocaust are private.  The government, however, has created several memorial sites dedicated to the Holocaust.  The Memorial to the Jews of Pushkin was created in 1991 and is part of the Pushkin Holocaust Memorial Site honoring those who died in 1941 during the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg).  In 1992, Russia established the Holocaust Research and Educational Center, which reportedly was the first organization in post-Soviet Russia dedicated specifically to the commemoration of victims of the Holocaust.  The Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance opened in Moscow in 2012, the result of a multimillion-dollar project supported by Jewish and non-Jewish benefactors, foundations, and local authorities.  At this museum in June 2019, President Putin opened the first-ever Moscow monument to the victims of the Holocaust.  The focus of the monument is on Jewish heroes of resistance in concentration camps and ghettos during WWII.  Later the same month, a monument honoring the victims of the Holocaust was opened in Mineralnye Vody City.

After negotiations in 2010 between the Russian government and the Jewish community, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation included the topic of the Holocaust in the history curriculum of secondary schools across the country.  Also in 2010, the Academy for Advanced Studies and Professional Retraining of Education Workers and the Holocaust Center in Moscow developed a program for leading educators and social studies teachers entitled “Lessons on the Holocaust:  A Path to Tolerance.”  It included 72 teacher training hours for 60 teachers from 10 Russian counties.

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

The Russian government does not provide special compensation, subsidies, or monetary assistance to Holocaust survivors.  However, pursuant to a 1999 Russian law, the Russian government does not tax compensation payments to Holocaust survivors in Russia made by foreign compensation funds.  The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany supports Holocaust survivors in Russia.

Spain

Overview

Before World War II (WWII), an estimated 4,000 Jews lived in Spain.  Aside from a Spanish division of volunteers and conscripts who fought alongside Axis troops during the siege of Leningrad in Russia, Spain did not participate in WWII.  The Franco government did sell and exchange supplies with the Axis Powers.  Spanish diplomats in a number of European capitals played an important role in facilitating the escape of thousands of Jews.  An estimated 20,000‑30,000 Jews passed through Spanish territory after 1940 to flee persecution from Nazi‑controlled areas of Europe.

At present, an estimated 40,000-50,000 Jews live in Spain, with the majority concentrated in the provinces of Madrid, Barcelona, and Malaga, as well as in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.  The government supports Holocaust education and remembrance.  In recent years, Spain has enhanced activities to raise public awareness and reinforce historical memory regarding the Holocaust.

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.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Spain participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and is a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics.  The government formed a Commission on Holocaust-era Assets in 1997 to investigate Spain’s economic relations with the Third Reich during WWII.  In 1999, the Commission’s work expanded to include an investigation regarding works of art bought or sold in Spain during the Holocaust.  The Commission concluded that, in terms of economic cooperation and movable property, Spain’s role was very limited.  An estimated one percent of all the art dealers operating in Europe conducted business in Spain during WWII.  Some Jewish groups and researchers criticized the Commission’s findings; specifically, they pointed out that the Commission did not conduct an investigation regarding the movement of looted works through Spain or sufficiently research existing art collections in Spain to ascertain whether they included works of art looted by Nazi Germany.

The Department is aware of one case involving movable property.  In 1939, Nazi officials forced a Jewish woman living in Germany to trade a Camille Pissarro painting, Rue Saint-Honoré, in return for safe passage out of Germany.  The painting was acquired in 1976 through a private purchase and was incorporated into the collection of Spain’s Thyssen Museum in 1993.  The woman’s heirs filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles for the return of the painting.

According to a statement issued in November 2018, the museum assessed the painting had been acquired transparently and legally and maintained that the family’s restitution claims had been addressed with the German government in 1958.  In an April 2019 decision, the appellate court ruled in favor of the Thyssen Museum on the basis that the painting’s ownership was bound by Spanish law, which allows buyers to retain works purchased if they did not possess “actual knowledge” the works had been stolen.

According to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE), there are very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country, and thus the Spanish government addresses restitution claims on a case-by-case basis.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

There is no centralized catalog of pending cases or claims regarding Judaica or Jewish cultural property.  The FCJE reported no restitution cases in 2018.

Access to Archival Documents

Regarding archival documents, Centro Sefarad-Israel is Spain’s public-private institution tasked with fulfilling the country’s commitment from the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.  The institution operates as the main resource and portal for Holocaust information, including educational and research resources, testimonials, literature, and access to the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and other archival institutions.  Cooperation between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Spanish governmental archives, particularly the National Archives, has been difficult in recent years, although there was earlier cooperation by some local archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Spain is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the government supports annual remembrance ceremonies.  For the past seven years, Spain’s Parliament has held an annual ceremony in conjunction with the FCJE to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The 2019 event, “State Act in Commemoration of the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity,” was convened by Spain’s upper house of parliament on January 24 with participation by Spain’s Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs.  In April 2019, the Spanish government approved an executive decree establishing an annual commemoration specifically for victims of the Holocaust.  In May 2019, the Minister of Justice visited the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria to honor and recognize victims of WWII and the Holocaust.

In coordination with the country’s Jewish federation, in 2018 the government began offering training programs and seminars to teachers on the Holocaust and issues in combatting anti-Semitism.  A network of teaching professionals focuses on promoting additional training and has incorporated Holocaust education into school curricula, according to FCJE.  Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continues to expand in accordance with a Ministry of Education mandate.  There is also a “Network for Holocaust Memory” established by the Federation of Madrid Municipalities to promote knowledge and consciousness across the 30-plus municipalities in the region of Madrid.

There is state-funded support for promoting Jewish culture and heritage and for the promotion of Holocaust remembrance and religious tolerance.  Centro Sefarad-Israel promotes cooperation between Spanish society and the Jewish community, with special focus on the values of coexistence based on the lessons arising from the tragedy of the Holocaust.  The group also organizes lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future