Czech Jews may get back stolen real estate

PRAGUE, Aug. 29 (JTA) — Jewish communities in the Czech Republic soon could see the return of up to 100 pieces of real estate stolen from them by the Nazis or confiscated by the former Communist regime.

On Wednesday, the Czech government started to discuss the transfer of the first pieces of state-owned property to the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.

Properties under consideration include cemeteries, buildings and vacant land across the country.

The current discussions within the government only concern state-owned properties. Not included are pieces of real estate now owned by local town halls or sold by the state over the years.

The Federation said about 1,500 properties had been listed as owned by Jewish communities before World War II, but some of these already had been returned.

Many others were excluded from the transfer process because new buildings have been erected on the sites.

Once the government decides which of the 100 or so properties are eligible, a special decree will be passed allowing the real estate to be returned to its original owners.

The transfer will take the form of a “donation,” as required by Czech regulations.

Among the properties under consideration is a recreation building built on a ski slope in the resort of Klinovec many years ago by a group of young Zionists, among them former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek.

It was Kollek himself who drew Czech Jewish leaders’ attention to the property’s existence.

Some of the real estate in question has proved controversial — not least the former synagogue in the city of Telc that is now being used as a regional police headquarters.

Although a former finance minister consented to the transfer of this property, his decision later was reversed by ministry officials who argued that the state was not required to hand over a building that it needed to conduct its business.

The Federation’s executive director, Tomas Kraus, described the situation as “shameful.”

“It’s amazing how many visitors here ask us why on earth there is a police station inside a synagogue,” Kraus said.

Kraus said he was hopeful that the issue of property restitution could be settled by the end of the year.

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