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news 07 Mar 12

Serbian Jews Await Deal on Wartime Thefts

Serbia's Jewish community is keenly awaiting resolution of its demands for the return of assets stolen in the 1940s during the German occupation.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

Serbia's small Jewish, decimated in the Holocaust, wants the government to act on promises to resolve questions concerning assets stolen before 1945 during the Nazi occupation.

As of now, Jews cannot regain property confiscated before 1945 nor can property of Holocaust victims with no living heirs be restituted.

Ruben Fuks, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia, says the community wants both matters resolved soon.

"Seventeen per cent of the pre-war Jews [in Belgrade] survived World War II but about half of them chose to emigrate from a country in which they'd lost all living relatives and all assets," Fuks told Balkan Insight.

In May 1942, the Nazis proclaimed Serbia “Judenfrei”, or “free of Jews”, one of the first nations in Europe to receive this grim designation.

By then more than 80 per cent of the pre-war Jewish population of Serbia of about 33,000 had been eliminated.

Fuks explained that in 1946, the new Communist authorities adopted a law that rendered null and void all transactions concerning property during the war.

But most Jews never got their stolen assets back because so much private property was then nationalised. Many survivors of the wartime persecutions had also left the country.

In September 2011, as part of a list of EU "must-do" laws, Serbia adopted a law promising the restitution of property nationalised between the Communist takeover in 1945 and 1968, or payment of equivalent compensation.

But the law did not envision the return of property confiscated before March 9, 1945. The law said another regulation would address property seized before March 1945. But this other regulation has not been adopted yet.

The Justice Ministry has told Balkan Insight that the missing regulation, which is of great importance to the Jewish community, should be adopted "in the near future".

If the restitution issue is finally resolved, the Jewish community would have more funds to support memorial activities related to the Holocaust, Fuks noted.

Belgrade's old trade fair, Staro Sajmiste, is only a stone’s throw from the city centre and few now know it was once a Nazi concentration camp.

The authorities plan to build a Museum of Victims of the Holocaust there. But according to Fuks, the city plans to fund the museum by using the sold assets of Holocaust victims with no living heirs, which he described as "totally unacceptable".

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