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.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future