PRAGUE (Mar. 20)
With only days to go before Slovak Jews take on the German state in a Berlin courtroom, Jewish community leaders in Slovakia have found a key document that could help them win their case.
The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities, based in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, hopes to reclaim the millions of dollars the Slovak government paid to Nazi Germany, using stolen Jewish property, for the deportation of 57,628 Jews.
The group argues that Germany should compensate Slovakia since it broke the wartime deportation agreement by killing all but 282 of the Jews in death camps.
The all-important document outlines a wartime agreement between the Nazi-puppet Slovak state and Nazi Germany for the deportation of the Jews in 1942.
Slovak Jewish leaders say the agreement makes no mention of the Jews’ extermination, only their deportation — a technicality they believe will strengthen their case when the hearing begins March 28 in the German capital.
The evidence came to light in late February, when a Slovak historian found the agreement in the Slovak National Archives.
The document contains two sections specifically relating to the deportations: Section 30 outlines the way the Slovak government would pay for deporting the Jews, and Section 31 deals with the conditions and circumstances of the deportations.
In neither section is the extermination of the Jews mentioned, said Jozef Weiss, director of the Central Union.
The Slovak government, the group says, paid a total of $43 million at today’s prices for the deportations.
Slovakia was the only sovereign nation in wartime Europe willing to pay for the removal of its Jews.
Making matters worse, said Weiss, the money the Slovak government paid came from stolen Jewish property.
Before the war there were some 100,000 Jews in Slovakia; after, the total was 1,450.
Today, Slovakia’s Jewish population numbers 4,000.
As a result of the decimation, Slovak Jewish leaders say they do not have the financial means to maintain Slovakia’s rich Jewish heritage.
More than 600 Jewish cemeteries lie in ruin and scores of synagogues are devastated.
The Jewish community that could have contributed to their maintenance today was murdered and had its property stolen, said Fero Alexander, executive chairman of the Central Union.
Any money the union wins at the court hearing in Berlin will go to Jewish charities, social projects and the maintenance of Jewish monuments, said Weiss.
The court move was partly prompted by Slovakia’s exclusion from the lion’s share of Germany’s $5.2 billion fund to compensate Nazi-era slave and forced laborers.
Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry failed to win direct participation in negotiations to create the fund, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and the Claims Conference were recognized as official negotiating partners.
As a result, Slovakia was designated as one of the “Other Countries” that will have to share a smaller pot of just $3.5 million.