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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.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Hungary
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future