PRAGUE (Dec. 15)
Czech Jewish communities fear that a new law could delay the return of property confiscated by the Nazis or the former Communist regime.
The communities already have been handed about two dozen state-owned properties — including cemeteries, buildings and vacant land — under a government scheme to mitigate losses sustained by Jews in the former Czechoslovakia.
But they now fear fresh obstacles from a plan, due to come into effect next month, to transfer a range of state properties to regional authorities after January.
“We are very concerned that we may face the same situation we had back in 1991, when the state handed over property to municipalities and we had problems trying to get them,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.
The transfer plan only concerns state-owned properties. Local authorities and private owners are not obliged to cooperate in the process.
Kraus pointed to the case of a synagogue in Kolin, which the local town hall refused to hand over because no Jews lived in the town any more.
The federation also has encountered difficulties with former synagogues in Louny and Slany, which they have been unable to take over because authorities have been using them to house archives and refuse to cooperate.
The communities are urgently trying to determine how many of the 20 or so locales on the latest list of properties put forward for return will be covered by the new law.
“We are making inquiries to find out if these properties are going to be handed over to regional bodies, and if it proves to be the case we will try to block it before the end of the year,” Kraus said.
The federation originally identified up to 1,500 state properties that were owned by Jewish communities before World War II, but only a small proportion were eligible for return. Many were technically excluded from the transfer process because new buildings had been erected on the sites.
The transfers, which take the form of a “donation” of state property to local Jewish communities, have already taken longer than Jewish officials had hoped. Delays emerged in the process after the Finance Ministry took longer than envisaged to present lists of suitable properties to the Cabinet for approval.