PRAGUE, Aug. 23 (JTA) — Slovakia’s Jewish leaders are welcoming the government’s decision to establish a commission to consider compensation for property the Nazis confiscated from Slovak Jews during World War II.
The cash-strapped Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities, which for more than two years has been pressing for such a commission, said the bulk of compensation money would be used to preserve Slovakia’s Jewish cultural heritage and help Holocaust survivors.
The joint commission, which will include 10 state representatives and 10 Jewish representatives from Slovakia and elsewhere, will identify and establish the value of property seized from Jews, most of whom died in Nazi concentration camps.
The executive chairman of the Central Union, Fero Alexander, said the commission’s main focus should be on the 70,000 Slovak Jews who died in the Holocaust.
“We are talking about principles here, about the properties of those who were murdered,” he said.
The commission will be chaired by Slovakia’s deputy prime minister, Pal Csaky. It is expected to meet for the first time at the end of September, after enabling legislation passes Parliament.
The panel’s first task will be to assess the value of seized properties. Negotiations then will begin on the amount of compensation for the Jewish community.
Both the government and Jewish leaders have agreed not to discuss figures publicly at this stage, but it is believed that the value of stolen properties could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Given the potentially huge sums involved, Slovak Jewish representatives have conceded that a compromise will have to be reached.
The manner in which the compensation will be handled has yet to be decided.
Csaky said the commission should produce a report by the end of the year, for consideration by the government in January. Compensation payments could begin some time next year, he said.
The government has stressed that it takes the issue of Jewish compensation seriously.
“The creation of a commission is important because there is a debt to be paid against history,” said Csaky’s personal advisor and press spokesman, Peter Miklosi, referring to the tens of thousands of Slovak Jews killed in the war.
Compensation payments cannot come fast enough for Slovakia’s leading Jewish body. The Central Union is badly in need of funds despite receiving, earlier this year, the first installment of $400,000 in compensation for gold looted by the Nazis.
The Central Union has been struggling to keep open the country’s only retirement home for Holocaust victims — David’s House in Bratislava — which was five weeks away from closure in March.
The gold compensation payments have eased the immediate crisis, but Jewish leaders say the battle is far from over.
“We also have dozens of cemeteries and synagogues to look after, as well as a day center in Kosice,” Alexander said. “It is a constant battle to keep them going.”