PRAGUE (Mar. 29)
Slovakia’s Jewish leaders are vowing to appeal a Berlin court’s decision to reject a multimillion-dollar lawsuit claiming compensation for Slovak victims of the Holocaust.
In a lawsuit brought this week in a Berlin courtroom, the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities sought to reclaim up to $63.4 million for payments the wartime pro-Nazi Slovak state made to the Third Reich to transport more than 57,000 Slovak Jews to death camps.
The Central Union said the money used to pay for the transports was taken from seized Jewish property and assets.
But the German court rejected the lawsuit Wednesday, arguing that the Central Union did not have a legitimate right to seek compensation.
The court’s presiding judge also said the lawsuit should not have been brought before the Berlin court. He added that the problem could only be resolved within an international legal framework.
“We are, of course, disappointed,” said Fero Alexander, the Central Union’s executive chairman. “But on the other hand, we did not expect a positive result in the first hearing.”
In a statement, the Central Union said it had “serious concerns” that the German court had not taken into account that the Slovak Ministries of culture and foreign affairs had indicated that the Jewish group could be considered a legitimate seeker of compensation from Germany.
It said the German Embassy in the Slovak capital of Bratislava had verified this view.
The Central Union filed the lawsuit after talks broke down with Germany about including Slovak Jews in international negotiations for compensating Holocaust victims.
The Central Union’s argument is that it is the only group that can hope to reclaim money from Germany.
“This was not about claiming individual payments,” said Alexander. Some “99.9 percent of those of were transported did not survive the war, and of the 282 who did survive, only two or three dozen are still alive.”
The Central Union’s lawyer argued in court that the group suffered from severe financial problems that left it unable to care for several hundred Jewish cemeteries and dozens of dilapidated synagogues.
There are approximately 4,000 Jews in Slovakia today, most of them elderly.
The most pressing problem for the Central Union, according to Alexander, is maintaining the House of David, Slovakia s only retirement home for Holocaust victims.
“Two weeks ago, we only had enough money to keep the home going for the next five weeks. As of today, we have enough money to run it for four months. It really is a very serious situation,” he said.
Alexander said the Central Union would appeal once it has studied the decision of the court.
Asked if he felt the Central Union could still win its case, Alexander said: “Whatever happens, we cannot lose from a moral point of view.”