Czech Constitutional Court rejects restitution of Nazi-looted property to Jewish heirs

WJC 16 December 2010

The Czech Republic’s Constitutional Court in Brno has rejected a restitution claim brought by the descendants of the Jewish owner of a button factory seized by the Nazis in 1939 and nationalized in 1945. The court overturned a 2009 Supreme Court ruling and previous rulings of lower courts that had found in favor of three relatives of Zikmund Waldes, who owned the Koh-i-noor factory in Prague when the Nazis confiscated it in 1939 following German occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia. The factory was nationalized after the war in 1945 and no compensation was paid.

The ruling came only months after the Czech Republic and more than 40 other European nations agreed in Prague on the first-ever set of global guidelines for returning the real estate stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners or heirs. The non-binding rules call for more transparency and speed in the processing of restitution claims for property stolen between 1933 and 1945.

The Supreme Court had ruled that the three heirs should get half ownership of the factory's buildings and a valuable collection of some 20 paintings housed there. The current owners, who bought the factory from the Czech State in 1994, challenged that ruling. The Constitutional Court ruled that the heirs have no entitlement to the property because only what was seized after the Communists took power in 1948 could be restituted. In their ruling, the judges said the heirs could try to obtain compensation from a government fund created ten years ago. However, the deadline for such ended in 2001, and the fund does not accept them any longer.

Jirina Novakova, one of the heirs, told AP: "That would mean that no Jews at all would be able to claim their property.” The Czech Republic and some other countries have come under fire for high legal hurdles and a lack of political will in property restitution cases.
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