PRAGUE (Jun. 12)
The Slovak government expects to finalize its proposal soon for compensation of Jewish property seized by the Nazis.
Government spokesman Peter Miklosi said officials hope to reach agreement on the details with the country’s Jewish community and begin paying compensation before legislative elections are held in September.
Experts estimate the current value of the seized property at around $530 million, three times higher than initial estimates.
The country’s Jewish community has proposed that the government pay 10 percent of the value, but neither side was willing to reveal the precise figure of the likely payout.
“The Slovak government is fully committed to resolving this issue as soon as possible,” Miklosi said.
The process has been delayed by complications, including the government’s severe lack of funds, disagreement among the Jewish communities and a reluctance among some members of the public to use public money to compensate Jews, Miklosi said.
“I don’t think we could have settled this complex issue any sooner, as there have been many hurdles to overcome,” he said. “While we want to deal with this issue sensitively, we don’t want to provoke a wave of antipathy against Jews.”
The country’s Jewish community, which has complained about the long delay in settling the issue, expressed relief that a deal was close to being signed.
“We are very pleased that progress has been made. The process has taken a long time, but we are really happy that it is reaching a conclusion,” said Fero Alexander, executive chairman of Slovakia’s Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities.
A commission was set up last summer to investigate the compensation issue. It is chaired by one of Slovakia’s deputy prime ministers, Pal Csaky, and includes 10 state representatives and 10 Jewish representatives from Slovakia and other countries.
The commission compiled a list of properties confiscated from Jewish citizens during World War II, and established a foundation to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage sites and compensate individuals.
Around 70,000 Slovak Jews were deported to concentration camps and killed under leader Jozef Tiso, who had formed a Nazi puppet Slovak state. A Catholic priest, Tiso was tried and executed after the war as a Nazi collaborator, traitor and war criminal.
Csaky, who just returned from a meeting with President Bush, said Bush supported the efforts to compensate Slovak Jews.
Though the government intends to hand the sum to the Jewish community to settle claims, there still seems disagreement on exactly who would benefit from the payouts.
Miklosi, who serves as Csaky’s spokesman, talked about compensating individual survivors, but Alexander said the Jewish community wants to use the bulk of the payout to fund cultural heritage projects.
Around 4,000 Jews live in Slovakia, most of them elderly.
“We are determined to keep our Jewish culture alive and desperately need money to preserve our Jewish heritage, such as synagogues and cemeteries,” Alexander said.
He also said the community was very short of funds to support other projects, including a home for elderly Holocaust survivors.