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Overview

An early ally of Nazi Germany, the newly independent Slovakia joined the Axis powers in 1940 after declaring independence from Czechoslovakia in 1939.  In 1942, Slovakia became the first Axis partner to consent to the deportation of its Jewish residents.  According to a December 1940 census cited by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were about 88,951 Jews in Slovakia at that time.

The first anti-Jewish law, restricting Jews to the practice of only certain professions, was passed in April 1939.  A 1940 Land Reform Act confiscated 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of land owned by nearly 5,000 Jews and turned it over to the state.  A law adopted in April 1940 mandated the expropriation of Jewish property and its transfer to non-Jewish ownership – a process known as “Aryanization.”  In November 1940, a second law mandated the dismissal of Jewish employees and led to the liquidation of 10,000 Jewish businesses and the transfer of an additional 2,300 enterprises to non-Jewish ownership.  Parliament passed a “Jewish Code” on September 9, 1941, based on the Nuremberg Laws, which excluded Jews from the economy and virtually all aspects of public life.  Wartime Slovak propaganda boasted that the Code was the strictest set of anti-Jewish laws in Europe.

In 1941, the Slovak and Nazi German governments reached an agreement for the mass deportation of Jews from the territory of Slovakia to Nazi-occupied Poland.  Between March and October 1942, 57,000 Jews were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp and other camps in occupied Poland; only a few hundred survived.  The Slovak authorities paid Nazi Germany 500 Reichsmark (RM) per Jew deported, driving the total cost of deportation to more than RM 30 million.  In exchange, the Germans permitted Slovakia to retain all confiscated property.  After Germany invaded the country in August 1944 to crush the anti‑fascist Slovak National Uprising, another 13,500 Jews were deported, and hundreds more were murdered by Nazi and Slovak fascist special forces.

An estimated 68,000 to 71,000 Slovak Jews were murdered during World War II (WWII), comprising more than 80 percent of the pre-war Jewish population.  Survivors who returned after the war faced renewed anti-Semitism and difficulty regaining stolen or confiscated property.  Many chose to emigrate.  Immediately after the war, the restored Czechoslovakia issued Decree No. 5/1945 and passed Act No. 128/1946, which invalidated all property transfers occurring under pressure of Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945.  The Slovak National Council, however, resisted implementation of the law and suspended its entry into force.  Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet Communist control in 1948, and all restitution efforts halted for the next 40 years.  On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two sovereign states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Slovakia remains largely committed to the goals and objectives of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust restitution.  The country enacted laws partially facilitating the restitution of or compensation for certain immovable private and communal/religious property in the 1990s.  However, several provisions in the relevant laws limited both the amount of property returned and the number of eligible and successful claimants.  As a result, many survivors and their families have faced difficulties in recovering their property or receiving compensation.  Since Slovakia endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009, no new laws have been passed relating to the restitution of private or communal/religious property.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

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.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Compared to other European countries, where auctions of valuable works of art confiscated from Jewish citizens were well documented, Slovakia has no such public records.  Works of art owned by Slovak Jews were usually stolen by private individuals and Nazi sympathizers, rather than in a coordinated government confiscation effort.  UZZNO acknowledges the absence of relevant archival documents.

In 1999, the Slovak government directed the Ministry of Culture to prepare a database of works of art taken from the territory of Slovakia during and after WWII, which was undertaken in cooperation with the Slovak National Gallery and the Slovak National Museum.  In May 1999, the Ministry of Culture requested that all state institutions with art collections scrutinize the acquisition process of their collections and report any works of art that had previously belonged to Jewish citizens who were deported from the territory of present-day Slovakia during WWII.  Except for one museum, the Lubovniansky Region Museum in Stara Lubovna, all of the organizations responded that they did not have any confiscated or looted art.  The Stara Lubovna museum returned to its rightful owner artwork it had identified as confiscated.  Although the government repeated its request to state institutions in 2007 after a meeting of Slovak government representatives with local and international Jewish organizations, no additional artwork was identified.  Nevertheless, some looted art sold at auctions may have entered museum collections.  In 2013, the “The Shadow of the Past” exhibition at the Jewish Community Museum showcased 14 works in the Slovak National Gallery that were suspected of being plundered Jewish property, including one by Rembrandt.  The original owners are not known.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

As with confiscated and looted works of art, the restitution of stolen Judaica and Jewish cultural property in Slovakia has been complicated by a lack of archival documents.  Representatives of UZZNO have reported that most Judaica disappeared without a trace during WWII, stolen by private individuals.  The Museum of Jewish Culture, which falls under the Slovak National Museum, currently holds the largest collection of Judaica in the country.  Named for architect Eugen Barkany, a pioneer of Jewish heritage preservation in Slovakia, the collection includes more than 3,000 items dating from before and after WWII.

In 2007, Slovak government representatives and Jewish organizations discussed the creation of a website with information on the origin of the items in Slovak museums and galleries and an online database of Judaica in the country; they also discussed making archives related to Holocaust issues available for further historical research.  The Ministry of Culture later launched an electronic version of the central register of the collections of museums and galleries in Slovakia, which was implemented by the Slovak National Museum and the Slovak National Gallery.  As of August 2019, work continued on both the register of collection items and the database of Judaica.

The Slovak Jewish Cultural Heritage Center has carried out documentation activities and worked to create a database of Jewish buildings and monuments in Slovakia.  The outcomes of the Synagoga Slovaca project, a database of photographs and other documents related to Jewish cultural heritage in Slovakia, are accessible and continuously updated online.

Access to Archival Documents

The official archives of the Slovak Republic connected with the period 1933 to 1948 are generally accessible to the public.  The Slovak National Archive reports that it has 4,427 boxes of material related to the Holocaust era.  UZZNO representatives did not report issues with gaining access to archival documents but noted that an unofficial archive of documents pertaining to Holocaust-era asset confiscations secretly preserved by the wartime governor of the Slovak National Bank went missing in the period after 1990 in what they alleged was a deliberate attempt to complicate restitution efforts.

Since 2005, the Nation’s Memory Institute (UPN) has gradually made public the register of liquidated and “Aryanized” Jewish assets from the Holocaust era.  The UPN website currently includes the lists of liquidated and “Aryanized” assets, provides basic data on the owner of the enterprise, the nature and location of the business, and information on its liquidator or the non‑Jewish recipient who benefitted from the illegal Nazi expropriation.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Slovakia has been an active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 2005, and the Slovak government actively works to promote Holocaust remembrance.  Slovakia recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, and government representatives attend Holocaust remembrance events organized by the Jewish community in Bratislava or Sered on or around that date.  Government officials also issue statements mourning the victims of the Holocaust and condemning xenophobia and intolerance.

On December 20, 1990, a joint proclamation passed by the then-Czechoslovak parliament regarding the deportations of Jews from the territory of Slovakia during WWII expressed regret and offered an apology for these events.  In 2001, Slovakia’s parliament approved the establishment of September 9 as the Memorial Day of Holocaust Victims and Racial Violence, which is the date when the WWII-era fascist regime adopted the Jewish Code.

In 2016, the Slovak government financially supported the opening of a new Holocaust Museum, built on the grounds of the former work and concentration camp in Sered, with a €5 million grant ($5.5 million).  In 2018, the government approved a further €1 million ($1.1 million) investment to upgrade the museum’s campus.  The government financially supports school field trips to the museum.  In October 2018, the Slovak parliament passed an amendment to codify a new definition of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, in line with the IHRA working definition.  Slovakia hosted an OSCE Conference on Combatting Anti-Semitism in February 2019 as part of its chairmanship of the organization.

Government activities regarding Holocaust remembrance and education are coordinated through the framework of an Action Plan for Preventing All Forms of Discrimination, Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance, which was first adopted in 2000 and has been periodically updated since then.  In 2011, the government established a standing Committee on Eliminating all Forms of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance as part of a Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality.  The committee, consisting of government employees from relevant ministries and other central government offices, as well as representatives of civil society, meets on a quarterly basis.

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

According to the World Jewish Congress, Slovakia currently has about 2,600 Jewish residents.  The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) provides Holocaust survivors in Slovakia a monthly allowance of €150 (approximately $165).  Survivors are also entitled to claim reimbursement for expenses related to medical care and social services based on an agreement between the UZZNO and the Claims Conference.

The Slovak government pays a supplementary amount to the monthly pension of Holocaust survivors pursuant to a 1999 Act on the Mitigation of Certain Injustices of Persons Deported to Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps (Act No. 305/1999).  In 2000, a National Center of Health and Social Aid was established in Bratislava to provide social services, health care, and assistance to Holocaust survivors in Slovakia as part of the Or Chaim (Light of Life) program.  The Center’s activities are financed by several international sources (Claims Conference, the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, and others) and also receives funds from the Council for the Indemnification of Holocaust Victims in Slovakia and the Central Union.  Social services for Holocaust survivors are also provided at the Ohel David home in Bratislava.  The activities of Ohel David are predominantly financed through the Indemnification Council and the Central Union.

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