Last attempt to restitute Holocaust survivors

The Israeli government has launched an international initative to help Holocaust survivors, or their heirs, claim compensation for assets taken from them in eastern Europe.

Project Heart, the Holocaust-Era Asset Restitution Task Force, has been set up in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, historically the main organisation involved in diaspora-Israel relations.

Bobby Brown, the project director, said: "Most people haven't been compensated in any way for their property in East Europe. This should have been done 25 years ago."

Potential claimants who have not received restitution are being asked to register their properties on a database now being compiled by Project Heart.

Mr Brown said: "We are talking about private property, not communal property. That consists of real estate, paintings, furniture, stock and intellectual property such as patents."

His team was also creating a second database of "properties that were most likely in Jewish hands on the eve of the Holocaust" by scanning archives on the internet. The first batch of 400,000 entries is due to go on the net shortly.

Mr Brown said that efforts to secure restitution agreements in East Europe had largely failed because governments faced public opposition.

But, he said: "We want every country to know that this is not going to be hush-hush diplomacy. This is going to be out in the open."

He stressed that any compensation would go to "survivors or their legitimate heirs if we can locate them. No funds will go to anything else."

The Israeli government had to be involved, he explained, because at the Prague conference on Holocaust-era assets in 2009, more than 40 countries agreed that the issue of restitution should be settled on a "government-to-government" basis.

Other organisations have in the past dealt with Holocaust compensation: the Claims Conference for Germany and Austria, and the World Jewish Restitution Organisation for East Europe.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "We obviously support efforts to seek justice and restitution for survivors and their heirs."

    Last updated: 12:56pm, March 24 2011