Hungary’s Royal Tokaji winery is one of that country’s best known and most highly regarded. Last month, after a year of negotiations, its owners installed two plaques honoring the Jewish Zimmerman family, who owned it from the 19th century until World War II. The Zimmermans’ story, writes Dorottya Czuk, tells much about how the Hungarian Communist government prevented Jews from reclaiming their property after the Holocaust:
In Hungary, there are still quite a lot of people who feel uncomfortable talking about how they “became owners” of certain things after World War II. The Hungarian state robbed its citizens twice: before and after 1945. The Office of the Commissioner of Abandoned Properties was established in 1945.
“This authority was a very disgusting and horrifying feature of the post-Holocaust Communist system,” explains László Karsai, a historian of the Holocaust in Hungary. He claims that lawmakers formed the organization so that properties stolen from Hungarian Jews could officially be nationalized. . . . [A]fter 1990 only partial compensation has been carried out. . . .
There’s a Hungarian joke: “Communism is a system where anti-Jewish laws apply to everyone.” Honestly discussing the role of Jews in Hungary’s economy and their place in society is a sensitive matter even today. No plaques explain the contribution of Jews to Hungary’s economy. Their properties were once enormously valuable, yet almost nobody has received anything near the value of what they lost. But thousands of buildings in the Hungarian countryside remain silent witnesses to the murdered Jews.