THE WORLD JEWISH RESTITUTION ORGANIZATION (WJRO) APPLAUDS PASSAGE OF LITHUANIAN LAW ON HOLOCAUST ERA PROPERTY RESTITUTION
Legislation, introduced by Lithuanian Prime Minister in November, passes overwhelmingly, and will provide €37 million as symbolic compensation for private property expropriated during the Holocaust & addresses heirless Jewish property
(New York, NY) December 20, 2022: The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) applauds the passage of legislation by the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) addressing restitution claims of Holocaust victims. The legislation, introduced in November by Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, will provide €37 million as symbolic compensation to private claimants and to the Lithuanian Good Will Foundation with respect to heirless Jewish property. The legislation passed in the third reading today by a vote of 74 in favor, 6 against, and 2 abstentions.
“We welcome the passage of this new bill and applaud Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė and the Lithuanian government,” said Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). “The legislation adopted by the Lithuanian government is a very important step to provide symbolic justice to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and their families and to support Jewish life in Lithuania.”
“These positive results come after lengthy discussions we had with Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė and Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at American Jewish Committee. “This new legislation will continue to help the preservation of Jewish heritage in Lithuanian, further revitalize the community, help elderly Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and provide compensation for those who had their property wrongfully taken from them.”
“The legislation adopted today is a meaningful acknowledgement of the tragedy that befell Lithuanian Jewry, and we hope it will lead to the continued recognition of historical dimensions of its tragedy. We hope other countries which have not yet acknowledged the loss of heirless property might learn from this example,” said Mark Weitzman, Chief Operating Officer, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).
“We welcome the vote by the Lithuanian government to provide restitution to the Lithuanian Jewish community and to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors,” said Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of NCSEJ, (National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry). “I want to thank everyone associated for the passage of this law for their continued support to provide a measure of justice to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and their families for the horrors they suffered during World War II and its aftermath.”
Over a decade ago following intensive negotiations with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and WJRO, the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) passed legislation to pay €37 million in compensation for former Jewish communal property. This payment represented only partial value of the properties; however, it provided much needed funds to support Jewish communal life in Lithuania, restored several Jewish heritage sites, and offered modest payments to needy survivors.
The new measures will now double these funds. A portion of it will be directed to making payments to some claimants who had originally sought compensation for private property but were unfairly rejected under the existing law. The remaining funds, which will extend annual payments to the Good Will Foundation for another seven years, represent the Lithuanian government’s acknowledgment of ownerless Jewish property, referenced in the 2009 Terezin Declaration. This will have a significant impact on strengthening and supporting Jewish communal life in Lithuania and addressing the welfare needs of the elderly, even though it may only be a fraction of the value of prewar Jewish property. It also sets Lithuania apart from most other countries in the region that have yet to take any measure with respect to heirless property.
WJRO, the Jewish Community of Lithuania, and the Association of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Communities formed the Foundation for the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage in 2005. In 2011, the Foundation for Lithuanian Jewish Heritage established the Good Will Foundation to distribute the €36 million compensation provided by the government pursuant to the legislation passed that year. In 2014, the Good Will Foundation allocated its first grants to programs to support Jewish life. Approximately $1.1 million of the initial compensation offered in the legislation provided for symbolic payments to over 1,550 surviving Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust victims worldwide. The remaining resources are being paid out over ten years to fund religious, cultural, health care, and educational programs for Lithuanian Jews.
Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at American Jewish Committee serve as the co-chairs of the Good Will Foundation.
During World War II, the Nazis and local collaborators annihilated over 90% of the 220,000 Jews in Lithuania. About 5,000 Jews currently live there.
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