Jews want fair resti­tu­tion

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Alexan­dre akcha­tel

The fail­ure of 12 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Poland and Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, to re­turn or com­pen­sate for Jewish prop­erty stolen dur­ing the Holo­caust has been con­demned in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

Speak­ing as a new re­port showed that Holo­caust sur­vivors are still be­ing chal­lenged by le­gal and tech­ni­cal prob­lems over prop­erty con­fis­cated more than 70 years ago, the President of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment An­to­nio Ta­jani, said: “Resti­tu­tion, to­gether with re­mem­brance and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, is a fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment to re­store jus­tice after the Holo­caust.”

He called on Mem­ber States au­thor­i­ties to as­sist vic­tims and their fam­i­lies dur­ing the com­plex le­gal pro­ceed­ings, adding; “Some coun­tries have done a lot and have even de­vel­oped best prac­tices. Others should do more.”

President Ta­jani’s en­dorse­ment of a cam­paign to achieve jus­tice for Holo­caust sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies over prop­erty came as he of­fi­cially opened on April 26, 2017 an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence, “Un­fin­ished Jus­tice: Resti­tu­tion and Re­mem­brance”, which ex­am­ined the cur­rent state of post-holo­caust resti­tu­tion in Europe.

The con­fer­ence fo­cused on the find­ings of a new re­port the Holo­caust (Shoah) Im­mov­able Prop­erty Resti­tu­tion Study, pub­lished re­cently, which high­lighted how each of the 47 coun­tries who en­dorsed the 2009 Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion on Holo­caust Era As­sets has re­sponded to its com­mit­ment to re­turn or pro­vide com­pen­sa­tion for land and busi­nesses con­fis­cated from Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and other per­se­cuted groups dur­ing World War II.

Most states in Western Europe have largely com­plied with the prin­ci­ples of the Dec­la­ra­tion. How­ever, many for­mer Com­mu­nist states of Eastern Europe, no­tably Poland, have not yet ful­filled their Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion obli­ga­tions to en­act com­pre­hen­sive im­mov­able prop­erty leg­is­la­tion, and a ‘sub­stan­tial amount’ of prop­erty con­fis­cated from Euro­pean Jews re­mains un­resti­tuted, ac­cord­ing to the study.

This in­cludes both pre­war Jewish pri­vate prop­erty cur­rently in the hands of the state and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als or en­ti­ties, and Jewish re­li­gious and com­mu­nal build­ings such as syn­a­gogues, clubs and so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions that have never been re­turned to the lo­cal Jewish com­mu­nity. The Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion held the widely-recog­nised view that no state should ben­e­fit from heir­less prop­erty, and that spe­cial funds should in­stead be al­lo­cated to needy Holo­caust sur­vivors. Yet in most coun­tries in Eastern Europe, prop­erty that be­came heir­less as a re­sult of mass mur­der re­verted to the state, and has not been re­turned.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 500,000 sur­vivors alive to­day, of whom it is es­ti­mated that up to half live in poverty.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, Poland and Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina stand alone for fail­ing to take any steps to­wards en­act­ing work­able im­mov­able prop­erty leg­is­la­tion cov­er­ing prop­erty taken dur­ing the Holo­caust and Com­mu­nist eras.

Baroness Deech DBE QC, a sup­porter of the resti­tu­tion cam­paign, gave a pas­sion­ate speech dur­ing the con­fer­ence in which she openly chal­lenged Poland over its record. “Some­times it feels like Poland is just wait­ing for Holo­caust sur­vivors to die so the is­sue can go away,” she said.

She added: “Resti­tu­tion was to have been a con­di­tion of en­try into Europe for Poland. It has gone back on that prom­ise.”

In some coun­tries, im­por­tant ar­eas of the law re­gard­ing resti­tu­tion does not yet meet the stan­dards of the Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion. For ex­am­ple, Croa­tia, Lithua­nia, Mace­do­nia, and Slove­nia limit el­i­gi­ble claimants to those who are cur­rently cit­i­zens of their re­spec­tive coun­tries, the Study says.

Own­er­ship over many for­merly Jewish re­li­gious and com­mu­nal prop­er­ties in Latvia re­mains in dis­pute and are not sub­ject to cur­rent resti­tu­tion leg­is­la­tion. Croa­tia, where the resti­tu­tion law passed in the early 1990s cov­ered only Com­mu­nist era prop­erty con­fis­ca­tions, ex­cludes prop­erty that was taken dur­ing the Holo­caust, and does not cover prop­er­ties that were owned by dif­fer­ent Jewish le­gal en­ti­ties. In Poland, fewer than half of 5,550 Jewish com­mu­nal prop­erty claims filed un­der the 1997 resti­tu­tion law have been ad­ju­di­cated.

The level of com­pli­ance to the Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion has been lower for con­fis­cated, heir­less prop­erty than for any other form of im­mov­able prop­erty, and a dozen Euro­pean coun­tries have not en­acted spe­cial heir­less prop­erty laws. Among them are Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina, Bul­garia, Croa­tia, Czech Re­pub­lic, Den­mark, Es­to­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Lux­em­bourg, Montenegro, Slove­nia and Poland. In the case of Hun­gary, the coun­try has taken cer­tain leg­isla­tive mea­sures with re­spect to heir­less prop­erty since 1997, but the Jewish com­mu­nity views th­ese mea­sures as only a “down pay­ment” by the govern­ment against the value of all heir­less prop­erty in Hun­gary, it was re­ported.

Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, “Un­fin­ished Jus­tice: Resti­tu­tion and Re­mem­brance”, mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment called on the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and all Mem­ber States to each ap­point Spe­cial En­voys for Holo­caust Re­lated Is­sues, in­clud­ing resti­tu­tion, to ac­cel­er­ate ac­tiv­i­ties aimed at se­cur­ing jus­tice for vic­tims.

Af­ter­wards, Gideon Tay­lor, Chair of Op­er­a­tions for the World Jewish Resti­tu­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion, praised Ta­jani’s an­nounce­ment as a “sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward help­ing Holo­caust sur­vivors achieve jus­tice re­gard­ing con­fis­cated prop­erty.”

He added: “The sup­port of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment sends a strong sig­nal about the im­por­tance of ful­fill­ing the pledges coun­tries made un­der the Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion. Coun­tries have a moral obli­ga­tion to en­sure that work­able prop­erty resti­tu­tion laws are put in place and we hope that they will re­spond by re-af­firm­ing their com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing jus­tice for the re­main­ing sur­vivors, their fam­i­lies and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties as a mat­ter of ur­gency.”

For­mer Is­raeli Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Natan Sha­ran­sky also at­tended the con­fer­ence. Speak­ing on be­half of the State of Is­rael, he said: “It is high time that all sig­na­to­ries to the Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion take full re­spon­si­bil­ity to im­ple­ment their com­mit­ments. This is not only an is­sue for in­di­vid­ual states, it is a mul­ti­lat­eral Euro­pean con­cern.”

President Ta­jani’s sup­port was wel­comed by Gun­nar Hök­mark MEP and Chair of the Euro­pean Al­liance for Holo­caust Sur­vivors: “On be­half of the EAHS, we sin­cerely wel­come the sup­port of President Ta­jani, and are heart­ened by the recog­ni­tion that has been shown to­wards the cru­cial is­sue of resti­tu­tion. We urge the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment to con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to give sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies the peace and dig­nity they de­serve, and help them se­cure what is rightly theirs.”

Among the most mov­ing speeches came from Holo­caust sur­vivors Ben Helf­gott MBE and Ha­nia Rosen­berg. “Com­mit­ting to a sub­stan­tial, broad and co­or­di­nated pro­gramme of resti­tu­tion goes some way to recog­nis­ing the suf­fer­ing, an­guish and tor­ment that oc­curred di­rectly to those Jews present at the time, and the dam­age it caused for gen­er­a­tions af­ter­wards,” said Mr Helf­gott, “There is a moral obli­ga­tion to the sur­vivors and the dead, to mem­ory and iden­tity, the link of fam­i­lies to their roots and re­pair­ing a his­toric in­jus­tice.”

Mrs Rosen­berg de­scribed her strug­gle to claim prop­erty stolen from her grand­par­ents in Poland dur­ing WW2. She said: “I have met with a great deal of ob­sta­cles over the 26 years this has been go­ing on. My con­clu­sion is that the de­mands re­quired from us in or­der to re­trieve our lega­cies are un­just and should be openly de­clared as such. Many sur­vivors, like my mother, have passed away or were forced to give up their ef­forts to re­cover their prop­erty. They do not have the nec­es­sary strength or the time left to pur­sue the strug­gle as the process is ex­tremely time con­sum­ing. The clock is tick­ing for all of us.”

Launch­ing the ESLI study at the con­fer­ence, Anežka Nekovářová, Di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Shoah Legacy In­sti­tute, said: “Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, over six mil­lion Jews were sys­tem­at­i­cally mur­dered and mil­lions were im­pris­oned or ex­iled. En­tire fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties were de­stroyed or com­pletely wiped out. To­day, more than seventy years later, many vic­tims and their fam­i­lies are still await­ing jus­tice. The dev­as­ta­tion of Europe´s Jewish com­mu­ni­ties is even more out­ra­geous when you con­sider the fact that the looted per­sonal and im­mov­able prop­erty con­trib­uted to their own death.”

Fol­low­ing the con­fer­ence, or­gan­is­ers urged the Euro­pean Union to agree “to pro­vide tech­ni­cal ad­vice and sup­port to as­sist and mon­i­tor var­i­ous resti­tu­tion pro­cesses in Mem­ber States and to en­cour­age the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion.”

MEPS were also asked to for­mally de­clare their ‘en­dur­ing com­mit­ment to the pro­vi­sion of ad­e­quate and im­me­di­ate so­cial wel­fare sup­port for Holo­caust sur­vivors, the de­mar­ca­tion, pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion of Jewish ceme­ter­ies, mass graves and other burial sites, the preser­va­tion of Jewish her­itage sites, and the pro­mo­tion of Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion, re­search and re­mem­brance.”

The con­fer­ence was or­ga­nized by the Euro­pean Al­liance for Holo­caust Sur­vivors (EAHS), a coali­tion of Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment com­mit­ted to is­sues im­pact­ing Holo­caust Sur­vivors, the World Jewish Resti­tu­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WJRO) and the Euro­pean Shoah Legacy In­sti­tute, to­gether with the Euro­pean Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith In­ter­na­tional as well as the Per­ma­nent Mis­sions of the State of Is­rael, the Czech Re­pub­lic and the United King­dom to the Euro­pean Union and their re­spec­tive Min­istries of For­eign Af­fairs.

The ESLI Study was com­pleted by a team led by Michael Bazyler, pro­fes­sor of law, au­thor and The 1939 Law Scholar in Holo­caust and Hu­man Rights Stud­ies, and in­cluded as­sis­tance from Terezin gov­ern­ments, stake­hold­ers, pro bono at­tor­neys, and ex­perts in the field of prop­erty resti­tu­tion.

About ESLI: ESLI was cre­ated in 2010 to es­tab­lish in­ter­na­tional so­lu­tions for the resti­tu­tion of im­mov­able prop­erty, art, Ju­daica and Jewish cul­tural as­sets stolen by the Nazis; so­cial wel­fare for Holo­caust sur­vivors and other vic­tims of Nazism; and the pro­mo­tion of Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion, re­search and re­mem­brance.

A full copy of the re­port as well as an overview and an ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary can be found on the Euro­pean Shoah Legacy In­sti­tute web­site at http:// shoahle­gacy.org/

Most states in Western Europe have largely com­plied with the prin­ci­ples of the dec­la­ra­tion. How­ever, many for­mer Com­mu­nist states of Eastern Europe, no­tably Poland and the Baltic States, have not yet ful­filled their Terezin Dec­la­ra­tion obli­ga­tions to en­act com­pre­hen­sive im­mov­able prop­erty leg­is­la­tion.

President of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment An­to­nio Ta­jani opened the con­fer­ence.

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