Many countries yet to return Jewish property stolen by Nazis, study claims

Samuel Osborne
There are approximately 500,000 Holocaust survivors alive today and up to half are estimated to live in poverty: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

A "substantial amount" of property confiscated from European Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust has not been returned, a study claims.

More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, many states have only partially complied with a law to return or provide compensation for land and businesses confiscated from Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study found several former Communist states in Eastern Europe have not yet fulfilled their obligations under the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets.

The study investigated unresolved issues around private and communal immovable property illegitimately seized from Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The Terezin Declaration said no state should benefit from heirless property and special funds should instead be allocated to needy Holocaust survivors, but the study found property that became heirless as a result of the Holocaust often reverted to the state and has not been returned.

There are approximately 500,000 Holocaust survivors alive today and up to half are estimated to live in poverty.

It also found both Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina have failed to enact any comprehensive legislation covering property taken from Jews during the Holocaust and Communist eras.

It said the largest percentage of heirless property was likely to be found in the Baltic States and Poland, where the overwhelming majority of Jews did not survive the Holocaust.

Poland had the largest Jewish population in pre-war Europe, as many as 90 per cent did not survive the Second World War.

"What amounts to the largest theft in history has not been adequately dealt with," the World Jewish Restitution Organization said in a statement.

The property includes both pre-war Jewish private property, now currently in the hands of the state and private individuals, and Jewish religious and communal buildings such as synagogues and social organisations that were never returned to the local Jewish community.

Over six million European Jews were killed by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and Nazi collaborators in the deadliest genocide in history.

Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, welcomed the report, saying: “This report shines a light on the failure of some countries to address the past and to return that which was taken.

“Progress has been made in recent years on returning and compensating for looted property but, as survivors pass away, Europe must ensure that all countries live up to their international commitments.”