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.