B'nai B'rith International is a member organization of the WJRO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head negotiator when the organization meets with European governments.
In 2009, 46 European countries, including Croatia, signed the Terezin Declaration, a non-binding pledge to restitute stolen property to the rightful heirs and Jewish community. In April of 2014, Mariaschin explained why this declaration has been easier said than done (via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency):
"We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s. What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task."
Negotiations were completed yesterday, with a $4 million government property being turned over to the Jewish community. Read highlights from the announcement, via the JTA, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva and The Jewish Forward.
According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the community will receive a six-story building and a surrounding land parcel owned by the government in the central part of the capital to replace a building once owned by the local Jewish burial society.
The Nazi-allied government confiscated the original building during the war and it was nationalized by the Communist government.
The income from the property will help to fund the operation of the Zagreb Jewish community’s senior-care facility and other communal 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, head of the WJRO negotiating team and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said in a news release issued by the WJRO.
In 1997, the Zagreb Jewish Community filed a claim for the return of the original building, which was built in 1927 by the Jewish burial society. Croatia’s Jewish communities submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia’s 1996 restitution law, but only 15 non-cemetery properties have been returned.
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.