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Czech Jews applaud German plan to compensate survivors

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PRAGUE, March 5 (JTA) — The Czech Jewish community has applauded the German government’s recent decision to give direct compensation to the victims of Nazism in Central and Eastern Europe. About 9,000 Czech citizens, including 2,000 Jews, could receive money from the approximately $47 million fund now being prepared by the German government. “Survivors have been waiting over 50 years for this,” Tomas Kraus, general director of the Federation of Jewish Communities, said in an interview with the Prague Post. “We’re glad because this is something we have been fighting for.” The local Jewish community has been pushing for direct compensation from Germany for years, and Czech Holocaust survivors opposed a Czech-German reconciliation accord signed in January on the grounds that it did not include provisions to compensate Holocaust victims. That pact, which was negotiated for almost two years, is intended to ease long-standing tensions rooted in Germany’s wartime occupation of Czech lands and the subsequent deportation of Sudeten Germans from postwar Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic remains the only Central European country whose citizens have not received any direct compensation from Germany for wartime sufferings. The money earmarked for direct compensation is separate from the approximately $96.5 million Fund for the Future that was established under the reconciliation accord to finance projects of common interest to both countries. The $47 million fund is “meant for victims of the Nazi regime who suffered extraordinarily and haven’t received any compensation yet,” Thomas Bagger, the German press attache here, told the Prague Post. “It will be designed to catch those people who have fallen through the cracks and regulations until now.” The German government is expected to decide soon how the new fund will be administered and to begin compensating individuals next year. Payment will be decided on a case-by-case basis and will be made during a three-year period, said Bagger. In a related development, the Czech National Bank may reverse an earlier decision and compensate Slovak Jews for gold that was taken from them during World War II, according to Josef Weiss, director of the Association of Slovak Jewish Communities. Weiss said the bank was discussing the issue with the Czech Ministry of Finance and that a decision could come by the end of the month. Bank spokesman Pavel Palivec refused to comment. In December, the bank claimed that it did not have the gold, which was transferred to the State Bank of Czechoslovakia in 1953, and that compensation was a matter for the Slovak government, which, according to Czech National Bank officials, obtained the gold when Czechoslovakia split into two states in 1993. However, Slovak authorities maintained that the gold in question was kept separate from other assets, and was therefore not included in the division of former federal assets. After Slovak Jewish leaders met with the Czech ambassador to Slovakia last month, Frantisek Alexander, association chairman, told a Czech news service that the Czech government’s stand on the issue would “not be quite so negative any longer.”

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