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Former Soviet states failing on restitution

While most western European countries have largely fulfilled their obligations, many former Communist states have not

    Joyce Anelay, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, has helped lead Britain's restitution efforts
    Joyce Anelay, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, has helped lead Britain's restitution efforts

    Eastern European countries are still failing to return or compensate for property stolen from Jews by the Nazis.

    An international conference on Wednesday heard that while most western European countries had largely fulfilled their obligations, many former Communist states had not.

    The Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study examined all significant legislation passed by the 47 endorsing states of the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets since 1945.

    The study found that eastern European nations were still holding a “substantial amount” of property confiscated from Jewish families.

    Under the Terezin Declaration, it was agreed no state should benefit from heirless property and that funds should instead be allocated to needy Holocaust survivors.

    There are around half a million Shoah survivors still alive, with about half of those living in poverty, according to the report.

    Meanwhile, the proceeds from “what amounts to the largest theft in history has not been adequately dealt with” the study concluded.

    This includes property currently in the hands of the state and private individuals or entities, as well as religious and communal buildings such as synagogues and community centres which have never been returned.

    The 1,265-page study was presented at the Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.

    Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina have failed to enact any comprehensive immovable property legislation covering items taken during the Holocaust and Communist eras.

    In Poland, fewer than half of 5,550 Jewish communal property claims filed under the 1997 restitution law have been adjudicated.

    Other countries, including Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia, and Slovenia, limit eligible claimants to those who are currently citizens of their respective countries.

    Ownership over many formerly Jewish religious and communal properties in Latvia remains in dispute and are not subject to current legislation. Meanwhile in Croatia, the restitution law passed in the early 1990s covered only Communist era property confiscation.

    Gideon Taylor, of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, said: “Progress has been made in recent years on returning and compensating for looted property but, as survivors pass away, Europe must ensure that all countries live up to their international commitments.”

    Anezka Nekovarova, director of the European Shoah Legacy Institute which commissioned the study, said: “This thorough and historic report lays out in detail what has been achieved and what still remains to be done.”

    Community leaders and Holocaust survivors have called on the EU 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.

    Following the conference, organisers will urge the EU to support a further declaration, agreeing “to provide technical advice and support to assist and monitor various restitution processes” in countries.

    MEPs will also be asked to do more.

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