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Restitution of Jewish Property in Hungary Still Lagging Despite Government Assurances

Despite all assurance of Government leaders, despite conferences between officials and Jewish community leaders, and despite land and property reform laws introduced in the parliament, restitution of Jewish property in Hungary lags. A full year after VE-Day the Jews have not yet been recompensed for property stolen under the pro-Nazi puppet regime.

In some instances, particularly in Budapest, real estate has been returned, but under such conditions as to leave the owner still on the J.D.C. relief roles. Rents received from such property are out of proportion to prices in Hungary’s runaway inflation economy. (At the last figure quoted the American dollar was worth 22,000,000 pengoes.) Where rents are collected they must first be devoted to the reconstruction of war damage–most houses in Budapest have been bombed or partly demolished during the battle for the city. Although rents have been increased, the new charges added by the Government are in the nature of a tax and the revenue is collected by the Government.

The return of farming land is another matter. This property was seized by the Fascist Government during the war and either sold to non-Jews or given to Nazis. After the liberation, land reform measures were passed, but very few Jews were able to move back to their farms. In many cases the Jews were either outside of Hungary or had been forced to change residence–some going into hiding and others enslaved in labor gangs. They did not return in time to reclaim their land and the new owners were never ousted.

Where the new owner now has a title which can be supported, at least on a quasi-legal basis, the Government has offered the Jews land in some other part of the country. This has been rejected by most Jews as unsatisfactory because they wish to return to their own homes and till the soil which is familiar to them and which they have improved through years of labor.

MOVABLE PROPERTY IS MOST DIFFICULT TO RECOVER

Movable property is perhaps the most difficult to recover. In many cases property which was not looted outright was given by the Jews to non-Jewish neighbors to hold for them. Many non-Jews are now either unable, because of war damage or looting by Fascist troops during the occupation, to return Jewish property or do not want to surrender it. Little can be done because of the difficulty of proving previous ownership. Besides, the Government takes the attitude that if the Jews had kept their movable property it would have been destroyed along with that belonging to their Christian neighbors.

The Jews have pointed out, but without much success, that although their neighbors may have suffered heavily during the war, they did not lose everything they owned as did the Jews. Even Jewish community property is in very poor condition. The public buildings, if not destroyed during pogroms, were used as military billets and stables and have to be renovated completely before they can be used as schools and synagogues.

The property of Jews is under the care of the same government department that handles “abandoned” property, including the possessions of Nazis who fled to Germany after the collapse of Hungary. No distinction is made between the claims of litigants who are Jewish and those who fled with the Germans, and a special tax is levied on those few who recover their property.

Property which belonged to Jews known to be dead may be claimed by next of kin, but in most cases entire families are missing. The Government has set up three Alternative solutions in such cases: recognizing the claims of distant relatives; pending the property over to the Jewish community; or giving the property to recognized political parties. The latter procedure is under fire by Jewish circles, which insist that all unclaimed Jewish property go exclusively to Jewish community projects to be used to support destitute Jews.

RED TAPE DELAYS RECOVERY OF PROPERTY OF DEPORTED JEWS

If a deported Jew is claimed to be dead the problem becomes even more involved. It now requires about two years of legal proceedings to declare a Jewish deportee officially dead. All this, of course, holds up the restitution process, and the Jewish community has asked that the legal procedure be speeded up.

In the provinces even a living deportee has trouble reclaiming his property. the provincial department of the abandoned property division is staffed by men who are hold-line reactionaries. It is reliably estimated that 90 percent of the division’s personnel are left overs from the pro-Nazi regime. In addition to the sabotage by these reactionaries the offices are terrifically undermanned and could not do a good job if every clerk and administrator was honestly trying to help the repatriates. This situation has resulted in at least 75 percent of the Jewish population in the provinces applying for relief.

One last factor delaying the return of property is the often-expressed fear of government officials that if all Jewish property is taken from the present owners a new wave of anti-Semitism will result.

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