THE WORLD JEWISH RESTITUTION ORGANIZATION (WJRO) LAUNCHES INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO REACH LITHUANIAN JEWISH PROPERTY OWNERS AND HEIRS WHO MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR SYMBOLIC COMPENSATION PROGRAM AHEAD OF DECEMBER 31 DEADLINE
Good Will Foundation to administer one-time symbolic payment to eligible Lithuanian Jews or certain heirs for immovable private property expropriated in Lithuania during the Holocaust and its aftermath; provides total of €5-10 million to be distributed to approved applicants
(New York, NY) September 12, 2023: The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) is launching an international outreach campaign in an effort to notify Lithuanian Jewish property owners and certain heirs who may be eligible to receive symbolic compensation for immovable private property expropriated in Lithuania during the Holocaust and its aftermath. The deadline is December 31, 2023.
“As the deadline for the Compensation for Immovable Private Property in Lithuania program approaches, it is critical that we make every effort to reach potentially eligible individuals for this program, which is historically significant and symbolically important,” said Gideon Taylor, President, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). “The program is particularly historic as it is open to survivors as well to certain heirs, and we encourage all those who think they may be eligible to submit an application.”
The Good Will Foundation will administer a one-time payment to eligible Lithuanian Jews or certain heirs and will distribute at total of €5 -10 million to approved applicants. The exact amount to be distributed to each individual can only be determined when the total number of approved applicants has been known.
In February 2023, WJRO alongside the Good Will Foundation announced that Lithuanian Jewish property owners or certain heirs could apply for the Compensation for Immovable Private Property in Lithuania program. This significant step came as a result of the enactment of legislation (Law No. XI-1470, as amended), introduced by Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė in November and signed into law by President Gitanas Nausėda on December 29, 2022. The decision of the Prime Minister followed lengthy discussions with Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at American Jewish Committee. The two serve as the co-chairs of the Good Will Foundation. The law aims to provide a measure of justice to Holocaust survivors and their families who were previously excluded from restitution legislation in Lithuania.
WJRO’s outreach campaign entails an expanded and strategically targeted presence across various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google Display Network (GDN) banner advertisements. Focusing on countries that had large Lithuanian survivor populations, including Israel, the United States, and Canada, we aim to engage with the relevant communities. In collaboration with our member and partner organizations, we will place informative ads in newsletters and work closely with them to profile potential recipients for the program. Additionally, we will partner with influencers and 2G and 3G groups to amplify our outreach. Through this concerted initiative, we strive to notify potentially eligible applicants about this important program.
“This symbolic compensation program aims to honor the legacy of lives that were forever changed by the Holocaust and the widespread theft of Jewish property. Time is of the essence, and we view it as our moral duty to notify potentially eligible Lithuanian Jewish property owners and certain heirs about their right to seek symbolic restitution before the deadline,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at American Jewish Committee.
“The Good Will Foundation is preparing to review all applications it receives and is willing to address any inquiries, offering support in multiple languages. Together, we undertake this meaningful step forward to provide a measure of justice and acknowledgment to Lithuanian Jewish property owners and certain heirs,” said Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
“I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to apply for the symbolic compensation program,” said Raja, 58, a second-generation survivor from Toronto, Canada. “It’s a chance to seek justice and honor the legacy of my grandparents, who once owned a lemonade factory and stone houses in Jurbarkas, Lithuania, before it was wrongfully taken from them during the Holocaust.”
The application forms and exact criteria can be found at the Good Will Foundation website here.
For assistance, further details, application forms and exact criteria you may call the Good Will Foundation at +370 5 261 12 59 or visit their designated website at https://gvf.lt/en/payments/.
No application received by the GWF after the December 31, 2023 deadline will be considered for payment.
Under the legislation, payments to approved applicants must be made no later than July 1, 2025.
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 128 million litas (approximately to €37 million) provided by the government pursuant to Lithuania’s Law on Good Will Compensation for the Real Estate of Jewish Religious Communities passed in June 2011. 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 were to be paid out over ten years to fund religious, cultural, health care, and educational programs for Lithuanian Jews.
Beginning in 1991, the Republic of Lithuania also passed a series of laws that addressed the restitution of private immovable property that was nationalized or otherwise illegally expropriated during the period of occupation by the totalitarian regimes. These laws made eligibility contingent on current Lithuanian citizenship, and effectively excluded most Holocaust survivors, and their families, who no longer lived in Lithuania. In response, the Republic of Lithuania recently amended Law No. XI-1470 of the Republic of Lithuania on the Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities, dated January 1, 2023, for the purpose of mitigating some of the historical injustices caused to Holocaust victims as a result of restrictive, complicated, and evolving citizenship laws. In the Law, the Republic of Lithuania committed to pay a one-time symbolic payment to eligible Lithuanian Jews or their heirs whose property was not returned in the context of valid restitution legislation. Pursuant to the Law, the Republic of Lithuania has provided 5-10 million Euros to fulfill this goal. The Good Will Foundation, of which WJRO is a founding member, was designated as the entity responsible for administering the fund and distributing the funds to eligible applicants.
In addition to the payment program of €5-10 million for immovable private property, the law provides an additional €37 million to the Good Will Foundation, to be distributed over the next seven years, and represents the Lithuanian government’s symbolic acknowledgment of heirless 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.
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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