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Legislation on Holocaust-era Property Restitution Introduced in U.S. House and Senate

Measure Would Require State Department’s Reporting of Countries’ Progress

Washington, D.C., July 7, 2016 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization welcomed the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House and Senate that would require reporting by the State Department on the progress European countries have made on Holocaust-era property restitution issues.

The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act (S. 3142, H.R. 5653), introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and in the House by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would lead to reporting by the State Department on the laws and policies in place in countries that endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration to identify and return or provide restitution for property wrongfully seized or transferred Holocaust era assets.

WJRO worked closely with the legislation’s lead sponsors.

“This legislation will ensure a more robust public record of the status of restitution efforts throughout Europe,” said Abraham Biderman, co-chairman of WJRO’s Executive Committee. “Greater reporting should spur countries to address the legacy of Holocaust-era thefts and to follow through with their commitment made as endorsers of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues.”

Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations, said, “We welcome the bipartisan, bicameral approach to this effort and their collective understanding of the urgency of seeking justice and restitution now, while survivors are still with us.”

The Terezin Declaration, approved by 47 countries at the 2009 Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference, recognizes “the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust era between 1933-45” and states “the importance of recovering communal and religious immovable property in reviving and enhancing Jewish life, ensuring its future, assisting the welfare needs of Holocaust (Shoah) survivors, and fostering the  preservation of Jewish cultural heritage.”

Should the new measure become law, the U.S. State Department would report annually on the status of restitution efforts by adding this reporting to either the Annual Country Report on Human Rights, the International Religious Freedom Report, or another appropriate report as determined by the Secretary of State.

The reporting would assess and describe the nature and extent of national laws and enforceable policies regarding the identification and return of, or restitution for, wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets, as well as compliance with or progress toward the goals and objectives of the Terezin Declaration.

The introduction of this legislation follows a number of recent steps taken by the United States Congress to renew their engagement on wartime property restitution, including a letter from the U.S. House of Representatives to Secretary of State John Kerry and a letter to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić urging passage of heirless property legislation.

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