(JTA) – Romania’s prime minister said he would try to resolve what critics have called flaws in the Balkan country’s process for offering restitution for Jewish property.
Victor Ponta offered the assurances at a meeting last week in Bucharest with a delegation from the World Jewish Restitution Organization along with representatives of the U.S. and Israeli governments and leaders of the local Jewish community.
Ponta appointed staff from his office to sit on a joint working group that was formed at the end of the meeting, according to Nachliel Dison, WJRO’s acting director. It will provide its recommendations on how to move forward within 90 days.
“This is a very important step forward in the restitution process,” WJRO’s chair of operations, Gideon Taylor, told JTA. “There has been a lot of progress in Romania, but there is much work ahead. Time is against us and, as survivors age, we need to finish quickly.”
Romania, a former ally of Nazi Germany during World War II, used to be home to 825,000 Jews, but only 11,000 Jews live there today. Approximately 420,000 Romanian Jews died in the Holocaust. Much of their vast property was confiscated at first by the fascist Romanian regime and then nationalized by subsequent Communist governments.
Romania initiated restitution of property owned by Jewish institutions in 1997, but only 300 of 1,980 claims have been resolved. The local Jewish community’s group for handling restituted communal property has received 37 properties and seven plots of land, according to WRJO.
The deadline for filing claims for restitution of privately owned property passed in 2003 after Romania received more than 250,000 claims, but Dison said that restitution is in effect being blocked by delays imposed by the Romanian justice system.
“In spite of legislation which appears beneficial, implementation of the restitution process in Romania has been seriously flawed,” WJRO wrote on its website.
Still, Dison said that “the meetings are an encouraging sign and are much better than nothing.”