Hungarian restitution fund to start payments in August

BUDAPEST, April 13 (JTA) — Hungarian Holocaust survivors will soon get their first monthly pensions from a newly established restitution fund. Local Jewish leaders voiced their satisfaction with the Hungarian government’s decision earlier this month to back the fund, to be overseen by what is known officially as the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Foundation. The foundation is expected to begin distributing a monthly stipend of some $20 to $30 per month to needy Hungarian Holocaust survivors beginning in August. Only those survivors now living in Hungary will be eligible to receive the disbursements. Payments will be made to survivors who are now 60 or older, and to others when they reach the age of 60, according to Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities. The Hungarian government has agreed to contribute about $25 million to the foundation, which will also derive income from seven state- owned buildings that were turned over to the Jewish community. Rather than sell the buildings, the community is expected to collect rents from the companies now occupying the buildings and make disbursements to survivors from that income. As part of the agreement with the Hungarian government, the Jewish community will also gain possession of 10 precious art works that were formerly owned by Jews. Talks involving the government and local and international Jewish groups began more than three years ago. Hungary had a prewar population of 800,000 Jews. About 600,000 died during the Holocaust. Today, the Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe, numbers between 80,000 and 130,000. The monthly pension is expected to be given to some 30,000 to 40,000 Holocaust survivors, Zoltai said, but added that the number could be even higher, because payments would be made to all people who were defined as Jews by the Nazi occupiers. The agreement that created the new foundation covers only the restitution of public property, not privately owned property looted from Jews by the Nazis. Local Jewish officials also say that the community lost 10 times more public property than what was returned under the agreement. In a statement, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities said it was satisfied with the plan for establishing the foundation, but that it should be viewed as only an initial step toward providing restitution to Hungarian Jews. Hungarian government officials, however, have suggested that they view the establishment of the foundation as a final step. In an effort to begin discussing the issues surrounding the monthly pensions, the 24-member executive body overseeing the foundation is scheduled to meet this week. At that meeting, the body will select a leader. There are two candidates for the position, one named by the local office of the World Jewish Congress, and one supported by the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community. Peter Feldmayer, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, said it was crucial who would have the leadership position, going as far as to suggest that the safety of the foundation’s funds was at issue. “The fate of the restitution money is not safe enough,” he said in an interview. “There were many examples in Hungary when foundation moneys disappeared.”

NEXT STORY