In focus: Two cases where the Slovak state has been trying to confiscate valuable lands by applying the Beneš Decrees

Since at least 2008, the scandal-ridden[i] Slovak Land Fund has been carrying out ethnically-based land grabs(Kovacs, 2022) on behalf of the state on the legal basis of the WWII-era Beneš Decrees[ii]. The private property of hundreds of citizen in current-day Slovakia is being retroactively confiscated – without compensation – from individuals whose ancestors were ethnic Hungarian or German. The Slovak Land Fund actively scours its archives[iii] looking for unfulfilled property confiscation orders from the 1940s, then sets about to “correct the procedural omissions” of these discredited, but legally in force decrees, that had assigned collective guilt for the world war to the two communities. The astonishing justification given is that these properties have already been seized in principle, just not yet in practice (Kovacs, 2022), and this “omission” is being “corrected” by the state.

The Slovak lower court has recently ruled in two such cases where the Slovak Land Fund initiated lawsuits against heirs whose ancestors had been registered as ethnic Hungarian. Not surprisingly, the extremely valuable plots of land are located under the D4/R7 motorway ring in Bratislava. Unfortunately for the state, the court ruled that the property belongs to the heirs of the former owners. The decisions can still be appealed.

The case of TERÉZIA GÉHRY[1]

On October 13, 2022, the District Court II of Bratislava rejected the lawsuit filed by the Slovak Land Fund in which the Fund claimed that some extremely valuable properties do not belong to the individuals who inherited them, but to the state. The Land Fund had argued that the ancestors of the heirs were Hungarians, so their agricultural property should have been confiscated after the Second World War based on the Beneš Decrees. The lands in question are worth approximately 1.5 million euros today, as they are located under the D4 highway bypassing Bratislava. The decision of the lower court is not final; the plaintiff can still submit a legal remedy request. However, the new director of the Fund, Ján Marosz, has not yet decided whether to appeal. According to him, under the prior management of the institution, certain interest groups used the decrees as a means to assert their interests.

When Benes came

In the current trial, the lawyer representing the heirs, Tomáš Plank, told Új Szó, the Hungarian-language daily in Slovakia, that the land in question was owned by Terézia Géhry, a resident of Bratislava, before the Second World War. However, her asset confiscation was not carried out immediately. In the case of individual persons and their properties, an administrative process had to take place during which a confiscation decision had to be made for the given person, but the person concerned had to be notified of the confiscation. In many cases, this procedure was not finalized because in 1949 the Czechoslovak leadership decided to collectivize agriculture, and create production cooperatives. However, the production cooperatives that were established at the time did not become the actual owners of the land assigned under their management, so according to the real estate registry, the Bratislava lots in question were still in Terézia Géhry’s name at the time of her death in 1955.

The road from communism to the D4 highway

In the decades that followed, until communism fell, it did not matter who the true owner of each piece of land was. The inheritance process was not carried out for plots in Bratislava. After 1989, however, the re-privatization of the collectivized property began, and the state tried to identify former owners and descendants of these landowners who gradually got access to the properties that their ancestors had bequeathed them.

The state began to deal with who the real owners of the properties in question were in the 2010s when construction of the highway ring road bypassing the capital began. Consequently, it was determined in 2015 that the land named in the current lawsuit belonged to Terézia Géhry. “Her heirs started the inheritance process during which, in 2018, the competent court made a final decision that they had in fact inherited the properties,” the descendants’ attorney, Plank, explains.

A halt from the National Highway Authority

After the probate process, the heirs turned to the National Highway Authority to obtain monetary compensation for their plots on which construction of the ring road was already well underway. “However, the highway manager replied that he could not pay because the Slovak Land Fund forbade it,” recalls the heirs’ legal representative. The Land Fund referred to the fact that, based on an anonymous report, a suspicion arose that the properties in question could once have been confiscated based on the Beneš Decrees. In 2019, the Fund initiated a lawsuit, during which it tried to prove that the property in question had a confiscation order attached to it.

The lawsuit

The Land Fund argued that Terézia Géhry must have been Hungarian, so the confiscation of assets also applied to her. However, Plank said that it was not actually revealed at the trial whether Terézia Géhry was Hungarian, German, or of another nationality; but even if this had been revealed, the Fund would still have had to present a confiscation order that was once issued in the name of Terézia Géhry. At the time, the decision to confiscate was not made for all ethnic Hungarian or German citizens and, if it was, the administrative process was not always finalized.

The case of GYULA WENHARDT[2]

In December 2022 the Slovak Land Fund lost another lawsuit in which it similarly tried to confiscate several properties located under the D4/R7 motorway ring in Bratislava on behalf of the state, this time from Gyula Wenhardt’s heirs. The decision is not final.

The lawsuit

Judge Eva Bieliková acknowledged the heirs’ argument during the sentencing. “The court mainly identifies with the argument regarding the preservation of the principle of legal certainty,” she declared, adding that the motion of the Land Fund is contrary to this principle. The legal costs must also be fully paid by the state. After the hearing, the lawyer of one of the heirs, Rastislav Čerevka, told Új Szó that several legal acts had been passed in recent decades in connection with the properties in question, which proved the ownership of the current heirs. The Land Fund now wanted to question these retroactively. The lawyer also mentioned that the Land Fund tried to argue based on the former owner’s last name alone, that the person named Gyula Wenhardt was German, so his property must have been confiscated in the second half of the 1940s. However, Wenhardt was definitely of Hungarian nationality. The current decision is not final; the Land Fund can still appeal to the district court.

The fate of Wenhardt’s estate

The case related to the estates of Gyula Wenhardt began immediately after the Second World War when a confiscation order was issued for his lands. However, the confiscation order presented by the Land Fund only mentions the name Gyula Wenhardt, no date of birth or place of residence is provided. Therefore, the identity of the subject of the document cannot conclusively be established. It is possible that, in accordance with the customs of the time, the given surname and first name were borne by several persons in the same village. The legal representative of the heirs asserts that Wenhardt never received the confiscation order, the title to his lands was never transferred to the state, and the properties were still listed in his name in the land registry at the time of his death.

By 2017, Wenhardt’s grandchildren finalized the inheritance process for the estate bequeathed by their grandfather, took ownership of it, paid the administrative costs, and have since also paid the property tax associated with ownership. It was subsequent to this that the Land Fund took legal action to dispute the ownership rights of the heirs, referencing the Beneš Decrees, but the court ultimately rejected it.

HHRF has highlighted these two legal cases as examples of this continuing human rights violation that requires immediate resolution. Domestic, even European Court of Human Rights level litigation, as has already happened in some cases, may provide some individual remedy. However, it is the unjust practice of confiscating land without compensation based on ethnic origin that the Slovak state is perusing that must cease. In addition, the government should consider monetary compensation for the victims of this misguided policy and provide effectivel remedy as well.



Beneš-dekrétumok: újabb pert veszített a Szlovák Földalap | Új Szó | A szlovákiai magyar napilap és hírportál (

Photo: Tibor Somogyi of




[ii] Ethnic discrimination is taking place in current-day Slovakia as the state confiscates private property on the legal basis of the Beneš Decrees, namely specifically, Decree No. 104/1945 of the Slovak National Council on the confiscation and swift distribution of agricultural land of Germans, Hungarians, and traitors and enemies of the Slovak nation, brought in 1945, that only applied to ethnic Hungarians and Germans in the country. The Beneš Decrees (consisting of 141 decrees issued from 1940 to 1945) aimed to lay the foundations of the new post-war Czechoslovakia. However, 13 of these decrees assigned collective responsibility to all ethnic German and Hungarian individuals for the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. These decrees were later confirmed by the Slovak National Council, as well. These legal acts are being applied retroactively, to people alive today, because their ancestors who owned the properties in question were either ethnic Hungarian or German.

[iii] As documented by the daily Új Szó, in recent years the Slovak Land Fund—a public interest non-governmental organization that manages state-owned agricultural real estate and landshas taken possession, via the Beneš Decrees, of hundreds of hectares of land worth millions of euros. The fund’s 2020 annual report shows that since 2019 they’ve pursued 600 claims to seize properties from the current-day owners because these should have been confiscated between 1945 and 1948 from their ancestors. The Slovak Land Fund intentionally seeks retroactive application of the discriminatory decrees. Acting ex officio, it continually mines its archives for unimplemented confiscation orders from the past so it can acquire those lands through administrative or court proceedings. Ján Marosz, the director of the Slovak Land Fund, admitted as much in an Új Szó interview.

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