WJRO Lithuania Operations
Lithuania has implemented restitution and compensation programs for confiscated private property, as well as for certain confiscated communal property. About 220,000 Jews lived in prewar Lithuania. During World War II, the Nazis and their local collaborators annihilated more that 90% of the Jewish community.
The Law on the Procedure for the Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Religious Associations to Existing Real Property (1995) provided a one-year period for religious groups to claim religious property mostly houses of worship confiscated after July 1940.
Pursuant to the law, the government returned a few buildings – including 3 in Vilnius and 5in Kaunas to the small religious Jewish community.
To address the limitations of the 1995 law – which mostly included worship houses and related property – Lithuania’s parliament passed The Law on Good Will Compensation for the Real Estate of Jewish Religious Communities in June 2011. The 2011 legislation authorized the payment of 128 million litas (approximately $53 million) over 10 years beginning in 2013. This amount was determined based on what the government claimed was 30% of the official values of 152 properties it determined to be eligible for restitution. The law also provided 3 million litas ($1.25 million) as one time payments to individuals in 2012. The Good Will Foundation, a joint foundation of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and WJRO, was designated by the government to receive and allocate the compensation.
Most Lithuanian Jews who fled the country during the Holocaust or its aftermath have not been able to gain restitution for their plundered property. The Law on the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership to Existing Real Property (1991) and Law on the Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (1997), as modified by several subsequent amendments, provided that former property owners and their heirs were eligible to recover seized property. However, unlike in Estonia and Latvia, the Lithuanian restitution laws applied only to citizens, thus precluding most foreigners of Lithuanian origin from recovering confiscated property.
Many of those deemed ineligible to recover seized property based on citizenship later became eligible to regain their citizenship through changes in the citizenship law. In particular, under the citizenship laws in effect until 2011, Israeli Jews from Lithuania were ineligible for citizenship because they “repatriated” to their ethnic homeland. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 – after the restitution claims deadline expired on December 31, 2001 – that it was unconstitutional for citizenship to be denied based on repatriation to an ethnic homeland, and the citizenship law that took effect in 2011 reflects this ruling. Despite the changes to the citizenship law, Lithuania has not reopened the application period for people who were excluded from filing claims based on citizenship.
Lithuania has no law for the restitution of heirless Jewish property.
Foundation for the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage and the Good Will Foundation
For more information about the Foundation for the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage and the Good Will Foundation, click here.