Czech panel to direct property restitution

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The Federation of Czech Jewish Communities claims about 200 pieces of real estate, a considerably smaller number than it claimed four years ago.

Tomas Kraus, secretary of the federation, said his group had renounced claims to properties that are currently being used for the public good.

"We don't claim synagogues used by Christian churches or property such as land on which schools are built," Kraus said.

Of the 200 properties claimed by the Jewish community, 17 are owned by the national government and 64 by municipalities. The rest belong to individuals.

A day before the commission was announced, the Czech National Gallery said its collection included dozens of artworks, including one believed to be a Rembrandt, that had been stolen from Jews during World War II.

Jiri Fajt, head of the gallery's Old Masters collection, said the gallery has been researching the artworks' history for more than a year and that much remains to be done.

The restitution commission will include officials from the Czech ministries of finance, culture, justice, interior and foreign affairs.

Czech Jews welcomed the creation of the commission, for which they had been lobbying for several years.

The Czech Republic has been criticized by the United States for dragging its feet on restitution, although post-Communist governments have returned more than 200 properties to the Czech Jewish community.