Around the Jewish World Croatian Restitution Law Changed, but Mistakes Hurt Former Owners

Changes to a Croatian law were expected to increase the number of people receiving restitution for property nationalized by the Croatian government during and after World War II.

But a series of missteps and mistakes is leading to worries that many people who are entitled to restitution will never receive their due.

According to changes passed over the summer, those who emigrated from Croatia and did not maintain their citizenship now will be eligible for restitution.

The amendments to the law were passed in accordance with a decision by the Croatian Constitutional Court, which ruled in 1999 that laws limiting restitution to Croatian citizens were discriminatory.

The law applies to property confiscated both by Croatia’s wartime fascists leaders and its Communist government.

Among those who will benefit are Jewish Holocaust survivors who left Croatia after World War II. It also applies to approximately 2,000 Jews who left for Israel shortly after the Jewish state was formed in 1948 — those who made aliyah were forced to give up their Croatian citizenship in order to leave the country — and their descendants.

The first problem is letting people know about the Jan. 5, 2003 application deadline. The U.S. Embassy has published the information on its Web site, but many potential applicants may not have heard about their rights, especially those who no longer live in Croatia.

Another problem stems from an error that allegedly occurred in printing the new law. A version of the law printed in official publications mistakenly said that people living abroad could apply for restitution only if their new country had a restitution agreement with Croatia. The error eventually was corrected, with little fanfare.

“I suggested to the Israeli ambassador he should do the same as the American Embassy and publish the information on its Web site,” Sead Tabakoviae, legal adviser to the Zagreb Jewish community, told Hakol, Croatia’s Jewish newspaper. “I also think that Croatia as a state should use her embassies abroad to inform foreign nationals about these important legal novelties, but so far I have no information that this has been done, not even in Israel.”

Although it has been two and half years since the Croatian Constitutional Court passed its verdict, Croatian lawmakers still have not done all they were expected to do.

“The problem is also that according to Croatian law, only lineal descendants, children and grandchildren, have the right to be compensated for their seized property. The law does not mention the brothers, the sisters, the nephews,” Dragan Eckstein, president of the executive council of the Zagreb Jewish Community, and the official in charge of restitution of communal property, told JTA.

In addition, he said, compensation is limited to $500,000.

Meanwhile, Eckstein said the site of the former Zagreb Synagogue , demolished in December 1941, has been given back to Zagreb’s Jewish community, as has the large house in the center of the city that was the seat of the rabbinate before 1941.

Now Zagreb Jewish officials are trying to get back the house that belonged to Zagreb’s burial society. So far, the government has only offered state bonds as compensation.

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