Croatia Returns $4 Million Property to Zagreb Jews

Croatia announces plan to return office building in Zagreb, expropriated from Jews during Holocaust, back to Jewish community.

Cynthia Blank ,

Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia has announced that it will give land and an office building, in capital city Zagreb, valued at about $4 million, to the city's Jewish community as restitution for property expropriated from the community during World War II. 

According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), Zagreb's Jewish community will receive a six-story building and a surrounding parcel of land, currently owned by the government. The building, in the center part of Zagreb, will replace a building once owned by the city's Jewish burial society. 

The Zagreb Jewish Community has been fighting for years for the return of the original building, which was built in 1927 by the burial society. They first filed a claim back in 1997. 

Croatia, part of Yugoslavia from 1918 until an ugly civil war in 1991, was occupied by Germany and Italy in 1941. The Nazi-allied government incorporated several parts of Yugoslavia into the Independent State of Croatia - a Nazi-backed puppet state. 

The original building being given to the Jewish community now was confiscated by the Nazis during the war, and was later nationalized by Yugoslavia's Communist government. 

The income from the property will help fund the operation of a senior-care facility for Zagreb's Jewish community, as well as other programs. 

“This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalize itself in a democratic Croatia,” Daniel Mariaschin, the head of the WJRO negotiating team as well as executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said in a news release issued by the WJRO.

Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chair of operations, said he and his group welcomed the decision. He added, “We ask that the government build on this positive action by returning additional properties to the Jewish community and providing restitution for private and heirless Jewish-owned properties.”

In addition to the burial society building, Croatia's Jewish communities have submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia's 1996 restitution law. Only 15 non-cemetery properties have been returned, however, according to the WRJO. 

The organization noted that country's restitution law does not apply to property seized during World War II, nor does it allow claims from citizens of most foreign countries. 

Croatia has also not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

Before World War II, an estimated 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; only 6000 survived. The rest were killed or deported to Germany by local authorities or the German Army itself. The exact figures remain disputed. 

Some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia today, mostly in Zagreb.