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Hungary Wants to Pay Property Claims but May Not Have Cash, Says President

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz said Wednesday that his country is interested in making restitution for property confiscated under the Nazis and Communists, but he warned that compensation might be limited.

“I think that even if we had 40 times as much national income and wealth, even that sum is not enough to compensate all those who rightfully should be compensated,” Goncz said during a meeting of Jewish leaders organized by the World Jewish Congress.

Goncz added that he did not know when the parliament would approve a bill for compensation, nor was he sure such a bill would pass.

“I can’t promise anything, and I don’t exclude anything,” he said.

An aide from the Hungarian Consulate qualified this by saying the government is working on a restitution bill for property lost during World War II and that it would be put on the parliament’s agenda by the end of the year.

But present indications are that the bill would apply only to Hungarian citizens now residing in Hungary. Among others, this would exclude an estimated 25,000 Hungarian Jews who fled the country after the 1956 revolution was crushed by the Soviet army.

Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said his organization would press for restitution for all those who lost property, whether or not they still live in Hungary.

“We have a moral and a legal claim to Jewish communal and individual property seized whether by Nazis or Communists,” said Steinberg. “We will not rest until we make sure that Jewish rights are safeguarded along with others’ rights.”

Leslie Keller, president of the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, which was to honor Goncz at a dinner Wednesday evening, said he believed a compensation bill would be approved, but he added, “I don’t know how they will find the money.”

During his talk, Goncz promised that Hungary would do all it could to eradicate anti-Semitism.

But he warned that the country’s economic woes make it more likely people will blame “various public enemies.”

Although religious hatred is banned by the Hungarian constitution, Goncz said that it would take years to “suppress the roots and not just the manifestations” of anti-Semitism.

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