In 1990, the new democratic government of East Germany introduced legislation to restitute property that had been nationalized by the former East German Communist regime. Even before the reunification of East and West Germany was finalized, the Claims Conference was able to achieve in intense negotiations that this legislation included the restitution of Jewish property that was either sold after 1933 under duress or confiscated by the Nazis.
As a result, original Jewish owners and heirs gained the right to file claims for property in the former East Germany. The German government imposed an application deadline, which, under pressure from the Claims Conference, was extended twice to Dec. 31, 1992 for real estate claims, and June 30, 1993 for claims for movable property. Following publication by the German government of the legislation, tens of thousands of owners and heirs filed claims and recovered assets as a result of these negotiations carried out by the Claims Conference.
The Claims Conference also negotiated to become the legal successor to individual Jewish property and property of dissolved Jewish communities and organizations that went unclaimed after Dec. 31, 1992. In the absence of a claim from an entitled heir, if the Claims Conference filed a claim and successfully proves the original Jewish ownership of the property, it is entitled to recover property. Before the deadline, the Claims Conference conducted a massive research effort to identify all possible Jewish properties.
Had the Claims Conference not taken this step, Jewish assets that remained unclaimed after the filing deadline would have remained with the “aryanizers,” the owners at the time, or reverted to the German government.
The resulting Successor Organization of the Claims Conference sells recovered property or receives compensation and has been responsible for more than $1 billion in grants, primarily to social welfare agencies around the world that assist the neediest and most vulnerable Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and that engage in Shoah research, education and documentation.These grants provide the major funds to help provide a “social safety net” for Nazi victims around the world.
The Claims Conference also maintains a Goodwill Fund to make payments to certain original owners or heirs who did not file claims by the German government deadline of 1992, but who filed applications with the Claims Conference by March 31, 2004 and certain applicants who filed thereafter.