After lengthy debate, the Czech Parliament last week enacted legislation calling for the return of property seized from individuals during World War II.
As a result of the new legislation, citizens of the Czech Republic having their permanent residence in the country are entitled to submit their restitution claims for property currently held by the Czech state or municipalities.
Owners of property that was privatized after 1991 will receive financial compensation. Agricultural land and forests were not subject to the new law.
The legislation was passed two months after Czech President Vaclav Havel joined the local Jewish leadership in criticizing the failure of Parliament to pass a similar restitution bill.
In April, Jewish groups reached agreements with the governments of Hungary and Slovakia for the restitution of Jewish property seized during the Holocaust.
Czech Jews, whose property was confiscated by the Nazi occupiers during World War II, were entitled under postwar legislation to reclaim their estates, which had been taken over by the Czech state after the Nazis’ defeat.
But in many cases, the postwar Czech authorities — who were at the time already under strong Communist or nationalist influence –refused to comply with Jewish claims and protracted the proceedings until the Communist takeover in 1948.
Following the takeover, claims for the restoration of so-called “capitalist” property were rendered impossible.
Under the new law, some 100-200 individuals — mainly the heirs of the original Jewish owners — will be entitled to submit their restitution claims.
Restitution claims for Jewish communal property held by the Czech Republic — including synagogues, cemeteries and other estates, such as the collections of the Prague Jewish Museum –will not be affected by the new law. Restitution claims for those properties will fall under separate legal provisions.
The return of former Jewish communal property held by Czech municipalities will not be obligatory under the new law, but will depend on the good will of local authorities.
The restitution legislation excluded the claims of those people — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — who do not reside permanently in the country or gave up their Czech citizenship.
The vote in Parliament to enact the legislation was 145 deputies in favor, three opposed and 21 abstentions.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.