Tuesday 25 April 2017, Brussels, Belgium – EU support is urgently needed to ensure that all member states and other countries fulfill their obligations to return property stolen from Jewish victims during the Holocaust to their rightful owners, heirs and to Jewish communities, not least to support survivors living in poverty, parliament members will be told tomorrow.
President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani will host an international conference, Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance, at the European Parliament tomorrow, as leaders of Jewish organisations and Holocaust survivors call on the European 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.
Speakers at the conference will include Gunnar Hökmark, Charles Goerens, and Monika Flašíková-Beňová, the MEPs who head the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors; Former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky; Bosnian Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak; and World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor.
The conference, also attended by Members of the European Parliament, diplomats, leaders of international Jewish organizations and European Jewish communities as well as Holocaust survivors, will focus on the findings of the first comprehensive study on the status of restitution in each of the countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009.
In 2009, 47 countries, including all 28 current members of the European Union, approved the Terezin Declaration, which recognizes “the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust era between 1933-45.” More than 70 years after the Holocaust (Shoah), however, only a small fraction of private and communal immovable and movable property illegitimately seized from Jewish victims has been returned or compensated. Poland is singled out in the report, commissioned by European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), for its failure to establish any comprehensive private property restitution regime for property that was confiscated by the Nazis and during the Communist era.
WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor today called for greater support to put pressure on countries that are currently failing to meet their Terezin Declaration commitments. He said: “Victims of the Holocaust must be able to count on the political support of the European Parliament and all European Union Member States to urge countries in Central and Eastern Europe to fulfill their responsibilities to ageing Holocaust survivors and their families.
“Too many survivors are living in poverty, without adequate welfare support, while some states and individuals continue to benefit from properties wrongfully seized from Jewish people during the Holocaust.”
Speaking ahead of the conference, François Croquette, Ambassador for Human Rights at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, said the countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration had a ‘moral imperative’ to fulfill its obligations. He said: “More than ever, the Terezin Declaration is a pressing moral imperative. We must actively work to bring justice to victims of Nazi persecution and secure compensation for them.
Ambassador Joël Lion, Special Envoy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry for Holocaust Era Assets Restitution, also supported the ESLI report. He said: “As a country where numerous survivors of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust live, we welcome the independent study and for the sake of justice, call upon the signatories of the Terezin Declaration to fulfill their obligations to return property stolen from Jewish victims during the Holocaust to their rightful owners. The State of Israel strongly endorses the efforts of the World Jewish Restitution Organization to address this issue.”
Thomas K. Yazdgerdi, United States Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, also appealed to countries to provide justice for survivors and their families for the expropriation of their property. He said: “The United States is steadfastly committed to securing justice for Holocaust victims and their families. We will continue to encourage countries to restitute illegally-confiscated communal and private property to rightful owners. We fully support our European partners in their work towards achieving the principles set out in the Terezin Declaration.
Following the conference, organisers will urge the European Union to support a further declaration, agreeing ‘to provide technical advice and support to assist and monitor various restitution processes in Member States and to encourage the implementation of the Terezin Declaration.”
MEPs will also be asked to formally declare their ‘enduring commitment to the provision of adequate and immediate social welfare support for Holocaust survivors, the demarcation, protection and preservation of Jewish cemeteries, mass graves and other burial sites, the preservation of Jewish heritage sites, and the promotion of Holocaust education, research and remembrance.”
Notes to Editors:
The conference is being organized by the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors, a coalition of Members of the European Parliament committed to issues impacting Holocaust Survivors, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), and ESLI, together with the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith International. Also supporting the conference are the Permanent Missions of the State of Israel, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom to the European Union and their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
A full copy of the ESLI report, the Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study, the executive summary and the Declaration is available on the European Shoah Legacy Institute website at http://shoahlegacy.org/.
Ambassador Joël Lion, Special Envoy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry for Holocaust Era Assets Restitution and Thomas K.Yazdgerdi, United States Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, are available for interview. Other speakers/attendees may be available for interview, upon request.