Mysterious papers bolster Czech search for Jewish assets

PRAGUE, April 2 (JTA) — Czech Jewish leaders have said the discovery of documents has bolstered the community’s search for assets stolen by the Nazis during World War II. But the Czech Interior Ministry, where Jewish leaders say the papers were found, said no such document exists. Late last month, an employee at the Institute of Contemporary History here unearthed a document from government archives that listed items, such as paintings and Persian carpets, taken from a Moravian Jewish family during the war, said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic. The employee, Helena Krejcova, also found correspondence between Nazi officials in Prague and Berlin, Kraus said. In the letters, he said, the officials argue over the destination of the plundered items. Krejcova had announced the discovery on German television and it was mentioned in the prominent German magazine Der Spiegel, according to Kraus, who has a copy of a Nazi list of plundered Jewish property. But Oldrich Sladek, head of archive reports at the Interior Ministry, said no such papers exist. The ministry has a Nazi document from November 1944 that determines how property should be located and transported out of occupied territories, Sladek said. But “there is not a specific property listed,” he said. In the fall, Kraus met with officials from Czech President Vaclav Havel’s office. Some 1,500 survivors of the Holocaust live in the Czech Republic. The Czech officials expressed their desire to assist in the search for plundered Jewish property, Kraus said. But no joint initiative has been established. However, a four-person team made up of representatives from Kraus’ organization and from the Institute of Contemporary History has been formed. The team is preparing questions to submit to municipal government officials across the nation in an effort to determine how much property was stolen, how much it was worth and where it went. Kraus said the team would be looking for property such as valuable furnishings and ornaments. Many items could be in private homes, he said. “Some of it can likely be found in Germany, or perhaps Switzerland,” he said. Kraus said his organization had not yet determined what course of action to take once the property is located. But he said his group’s search for plundered Jewish property was in part inspired by the recent controversy surrounding Swiss banks and the fate of the assets of Holocaust victims. If there are lost possessions there, he said, “there must be some here too.”

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