Five EU States at Center of New Israeli Effort to Restore Jewish Property Stolen in Holocaust

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German SS soldiers lead a group of Polish Jews away for deportation after the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt in 1943.Credit: AP

Israel has prepared a new plan to restore property stolen from Jews in Europe during World War II and the Communist era. The plan, prepared jointly by the Social Equality Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, was unveiled at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The plan focuses on five countries where large amounts of Jewish property have yet to be restored: Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Lithuania. The program includes locating, documenting and mapping the stolen Jewish property; establishing committees and joint working groups between Israeli representatives, the WJRO and these European countries; and advancing legislation on the issue.

"The main goal of the program is to concentrate efforts and join forces to speed up legislation and other steps which will benefit Holocaust survivors and the heirs of those who died in the Holocaust and whose assets were stolen or nationalized during World War II or in its wake," planners said.

President Reuven Rivlin, who hosted the event, said that "It is customary to say that crime does not pay. For many people the crimes of the Holocaust did pay. We cannot allow this, we must restore this property."

He called on world leaders to act now, saying this is a window of opportunity to show survivors that the world has learned the lesson. "It is our moral obligation," he added.

President Reuven Rivlin, sitting right, and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, left, at the launch of the Holocaust property restoration program in Jerusalem, May 4 2017.Credit: Social Equality Ministry

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said the "Jewish people and Israel have a moral obligation to make every effort to restore the stolen property of Holocaust survivors," noting the issue is complicated and requires "broad, delicate and complex international measures."

The program includes a wide range of efforts to restore both community and private property, Gideon Taylor, the chairman of operations and the treasurer of the WJRO, told Haaretz. The main innovation of the plan is making the issue an international matter – not just an Israeli one, but one for all of Europe, he said.

The WJRO is a nonprofit umbrella organization for Jewish groups seeking restitution of private property and for compensation to Holocaust survivors.

The launch of the plan came after an international conference at the end of April on the issue in the European Parliament in Brussels. A report presented at the conference showed a significant portion of the property stolen from Jews during the Holocaust was never restored to its owners or heirs.  

The study examined the efforts taken by the 47 countries that signed the 2009 Terezin Declaration concerning Holocaust-era assets. The declaration called to act to restore Jewish property from the period. The study found that many former Communist Eastern European countries, and Poland in particular, have not kept their commitments according to the declaration to enact legislation on such restoration.  

The WJRO calls this the greatest theft in history, saying Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina have "failed completely" on the matter.

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