After the end of the Communist regime in November 1989, the Czechoslovak parliament introduced legislation regarding both private and communal property restitution, including heirless property, albeit with limitations that affected both the amount of property returned and the number of eligible claimants. The legislation was subsequently carried over into Slovak law.
The private property restitution regime, relating to both property expropriated during the Holocaust and property seized during the Communist era, was introduced in 1991 in Czechoslovakia through Act No. 87/1991 on Extra-Judicial Rehabilitation (and amendments) and Act No. 229/1991 on the Regulation of Property Relations to the Land and Other Agricultural Property (and amendments). These acts related to restitution of property such as buildings, land, and agricultural property expropriated between the beginning of the Nazi occupation (1939) and the Velvet Revolution (1989). Both laws offered the possibility of compensation and restitution for expropriated property. Claimants who chose restitution of the actual property where the property had appreciated in value were, however, obligated to pay the current owner the difference between the original and the current value. The legislation also required that claimants be citizens with permanent residence in the country, which limited the number of eligible and successful claimants.
Representatives of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO) have maintained that in some cases, non-Jews who had acquired Jewish property during the Holocaust and subsequently lost it to Communist nationalization after 1948 were successful in obtaining restitution of that property under the referenced 1991 laws. Jewish representatives also reported difficulties with obtaining restitution for agricultural land because of extreme parcel fragmentation caused by the local inheritance system and poor documentation, challenges that also applied to non-Jewish applicants for restitution.
Since the laws introducing the restitution regime for private property did not include provisions for the disposition of property for which no heirs could be identified, the Slovak government and the Slovak Jewish community in 2000 established a Joint Commission to review heirless property and other remaining restitution issues. The commission consisted of Slovak government representatives and 10 Jewish representatives: seven from the Slovak Jewish community, including UZZNO; one each representing the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International; and one jointly representing the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
Experts contracted by the Joint Commission reported that Jewish movable property and real estate (excluding agricultural lands) that changed ownership due to racial laws, liquidation, or expropriation and transfer to non-Jews during the period 1939-1945 was valued at approximately 8.5 billion Slovak Crowns ($185 million in 2002). The estimate was based on original documentation from the Nazi expropriation process and included the value of Jewish enterprises sold to non-Jews, blocked bank deposits, unpaid insurance policies, and the value of certain movable assets, such as livestock.
In 2002, the Slovak government and the Jewish community reached an agreement under which the Jewish community would accept 10 percent (approximately $18.5 million) of the aforementioned sum as a settlement. The agreement also created the Council for the Compensation of Holocaust Victims in the Slovak Republic, which was composed of government officials and members of the Jewish community. For a period of 10 years, the Council distributed the settlement funds for the following purposes: (1) to individuals whose assets were neither returned nor indemnified in any way; (2) for social-health care projects with special consideration for the needs of Holocaust survivors; (3) for the reconstruction, renewal, and maintenance of Jewish monuments in the Slovak Republic; (4) for projects dedicated to the dignified memory of Holocaust victims; and (5) for support of Jewish social, cultural and education activities.
Up to one-third of the fund was earmarked for compensation to individuals whose assets were never returned or indemnified in any way. This included compensation for Holocaust victims or their heirs (regardless of their current permanent residency status) whose confiscated properties were located in the part of Slovak territory that was ceded to Hungary through an agreement brokered by Germany and Italy in 1938. Of the approximately 1,300 claims registered by the December 31, 2003, deadline, mostly by descendants of Slovak Jews living in the United States and Israel, 580 claimants were deemed eligible. Their payments ranged from $1,100 to $34,000, with the average payment $16,000. Many applications were rejected for lack of sufficient evidence. The remainder of this part of the fund was used to make one-time payments of about $3,000 each to 122 claimants who were Slovak citizens and who were initially rejected from another Holocaust-related compensation program provided under Act no. 305/1999 on the Mitigation of Certain Injustices to Persons Deported to Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps. In 2012, the remaining balance from the fund, approximately one-third of the principal amount, was transferred from the Council to UZZNO, which continues to use it for funding social and healthcare services for survivors, for the upkeep of religious monuments, and for awareness/education projects.
Regarding communal property restitution, in 1993 Slovakia enacted Act No. 282/1993 on the Mitigation of Certain Injustices Caused to Churches and Religious Communities. The law covered property confiscated between 1945 and 1990, but a special provision permitted Jewish communities to file claims dating back to 1938. The state, municipalities, and private citizens were obliged to return religious and communal properties to their rightful owners. A follow-up Restitution Law No. 161 enacted in 2005 permitted religious communities to file claims also for agricultural and forest land and administrative buildings, including non-religious property. The 2005 law also reopened the claims process under Act No. 282/1993, as potential claimants may not have been aware of the opportunity to seek restitution, leaving many claims unsatisfied.
UZZNO filed communal property claims on behalf of the Jewish community in areas where there was no longer an active Jewish presence. The organization filed 500 property claims; 300 of these claims were satisfied, most which were for Jewish cemeteries. UZZNO described the process of communal property restitution as uneven across the country. Restitution in Bratislava occurred relatively swiftly, but in eastern Slovakia – which had a large Jewish presence before the Holocaust but a very small community in the 1990s and 2000s – there were difficulties in returning buildings to the community. In addition, critics reported that municipalities were frequently pleased to return derelict synagogues, but problems arose when the buildings in question were being used for municipal services. There is an ongoing dispute before Slovak courts over heirless land for which the Jewish community continues to seek restitution.