The work of WJRO

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUSTICE - – B.D.

The World Jewish Restitutio­n Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WJRO) was es­tab­lished in Jerusalem in 1993, as a non­profit for the pur­pose of pur­su­ing claims for the re­cov­ery of Jewish prop­er­ties seized dur­ing the Holo­caust in Eastern Europe. It is ac­tive in 12 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Poland, Hun­gary, Ro­ma­nia and the Baltics. When it is not pos­si­ble to re­turn the as­sets to the right­ful own­ers, or their heirs, the or­ga­ni­za­tion seeks full com­pen­sa­tion.

Dublin-born Gideon Tay­lor serves as chair of op­er­a­tions from the WJRO of­fices in New York, and is pal­pa­bly aware of the mine­fields the or­ga­ni­za­tion has to con­stantly ne­go­ti­ate. “It is not easy,” he ad­mits. “It is a strug­gle, but it is one that needs to be fought.” There has been some en­cour­age­ment along the way.

“We have suc­ceeded in a lot of coun­tries in Eastern Europe,” Tay­lor notes. “We think, ul­ti­mately, we will suc­ceed be­cause it [the Holo­caust and re­lated claims] is part of the his­tory.”

Tay­lor is up­beat about the chances of achiev­ing restitutio­n or, at least, com­pen­sa­tion for Holo­caust sur­vivor claimants, and their de­scen­dants, even in Poland, which has proven to be the most ob­du­rate of spar­ring part­ners.

“I think, at the end of the day, Poland will have to ad­dress it. They will de­fer and de­fer but, at the end of the day, it will have to ad­dress it.”

Tay­lor points to progress made over the years.

“In Ro­ma­nia, for ex­am­ple, there is a sys­tem of re­turn of pri­vate property, and also of com­mu­nal property in place. It’s not per­fect, but we have def­i­nitely made sig­nif­i­cant progress. We’ve helped in­di­vid­u­als re­cover property, and we have re­cov­ered com­mu­nal property, which has been dis­trib­uted through a foun­da­tion to help the Ro­ma­nian Jewish com­mu­nity and Ro­ma­nian Jews in Is­rael.”

Rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion has also been in­tro­duced in Bul­garia, and even in Hun­gary there is a “sym­bolic pro­gram for in­di­vid­u­als, and re­turns of com­mu­nal property,” Tay­lor notes. “In the Baltics, there were re­turns of com­mu­nal property, and in Latvia there was com­pen­sa­tion paid for pri­vate property. In most coun­tries in Eastern Europe, there has been some kind of a pro­gram that has not been per­fect, but that has been sym­bolic recog­ni­tion.” The lat­ter is an im­por­tant is­sue for the WJRO.

“For us, this is­sue in, some ways, is about the money, but it’s also about recog­ni­tion, ac­knowl­edg­ment and his­tory,” Tay­lor adds. “That’s why we think it’s im­por­tant to pur­sue the is­sue – not just for the fi­nan­cial im­pact it can have on Holo­caust sur­vivors or their fam­i­lies, but also as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple.”

Poland is a par­tic­u­larly tough nut to crack.

“It has been dis­ap­point­ing to hear state­ments that have come from of­fi­cials, that some­how that peo­ple [claimants] can go to court,” says Tay­lor. That, he be­lieves, is a smoke­screen. “The only way you can suc­ceed in court in Poland, with a restitutio­n claim, is if you can prove that the way the con­fis­ca­tion was made was tech­ni­cally in­cor­rect. Even then it is very dif­fi­cult. It has been a cruel jour­ney for many sur­vivors.”

There is a wider is­sue here, too, with a strong ed­u­ca­tional as­pect.

“I think this is­sue is also im­por­tant for the younger gen­er­a­tion of Jews and Is­raelis,” Tay­lor states. “I think it is a sign of our aware­ness of what hap­pened, and it is a sign of re­spect for Holo­caust sur­vivors. I think it is also a way to ed­u­cate about the past and to learn for the fu­ture.”

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