WJRO WELCOMES PASSAGE OF HOLOCAUST ERA RESTITUTION LEGISLATION IN LATVIA
Law to provide €40 Million to revitalize Latvian Jewish Community, Holocaust memorialization, remembrance, education, and social services
(New York, NY) February 10, 2022: Today, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the passage of a new restitution law by the Latvian parliament, which is the result of efforts led by WJRO and the local Latvian Jewish community. This legislation will provide €40 million ($46 million) in funding to be used to revitalize the Latvian Jewish community, provide social and material assistance to Holocaust survivors from Latvia, and preserve the memory of those who perished. This bill provides reimbursement for immovable properties belonging to Jewish religious and communal organizations before the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940, and Jewish heirless property, which could not be previously returned through denationalization laws. The law passed with 64 votes in favor, 21 against, and 0 abstentions.
“The legislation adopted today is a meaningful acknowledgement of the unique tragedy that befell Latvian Jewry, and a powerful statement of Latvia’s abiding goodwill to its Jewish Community and to Latvian Holocaust survivors,” said Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations, WJRO.
“This historic law demonstrates that even 77 years after the Holocaust, justice is achievable. We urge other countries who have not yet done so to follow Latvia’s lead in upholding commitments made under the 2009 Terezin Declaration. We will not stop seeking justice for Holocaust survivors, their families, and Jewish communities,” said Mark Weitzman, Chief Operating Officer, WJRO.
“The Latvian Jewish Community welcomes this historic step by the Latvian government to provide reimbursement for properties that belonged to Jewish religious and communal organizations that were confiscated during the Soviet occupation and could not be restituted because tragically, 90% of the Jewish community perished in the Shoah. Finalizing this process demonstrates that even 77 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is never too late for justice,” said Arkady Sukharenko, Head of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities (LCJC).
“For us, the passing of the legislation is just the start of the process. This vital legislation will enable the Latvian Jewish community to continue preservation of our heritage, help elderly Latvian Holocaust survivors, and most importantly, further revitalize the community and build the basis for our community’s future. We look forward to working with our international partners in fulfilling those goals,” said Dmitry Krupnikov, Head of the Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund (LEKOREF).
“We welcome the vote by the Saeima to provide restitution to the Latvian Jewish community. This positive result comes after years of negotiations. While no settlement can ever compensate for the devastation of Latvian Jewry during the Shoah, this legislation will provide some measure of justice and assistance to the community today,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International CEO.
“This has been a decades-long process with considerable challenges and roadblocks along the way. It is to the credit of the Latvian Parliament and Government that it is finally completed, and the future of Jewish communal life will be sustained,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee (AJC).
The law lists approximately 250 properties identified by the Jewish Community of Latvia, including schools, orphanages, hospitals, and cultural houses, along with each of their 2018 cadastral values. The compensation will be paid in ten annual installments from the state budget to the Foundation LEKOREF until 2032.
The thriving pre-war Jewish community of Latvia suffered enormous losses during the Holocaust. Approximately 95,000 Jewish people lived in Latvia before the war – in 1944, when the Soviet army reoccupied Latvia, only a few hundred Jews remained. In addition, several thousand Latvian Jews survived the Holocaust and returned to Latvia after the war, including those who survived deportation to concentration camps or had fled to the Soviet Union to escape the Nazis. In addition to the loss of life, Jewish properties, including homes, synagogues, cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and other communal and religious spaces were nationalized by the Soviet Union and then systematically destroyed during the Nazi occupation.
In Latvia, WJRO works closely with the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities (LCJC). WJRO also serves on the Council of the Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund (LEKOREF), which is the foundation responsible for managing and distributing the €40 million over the next ten years.
The law provides funds to be allocated for the events and projects of the Jewish Community of Latvia, including:
- restoration and preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of Jews of Latvia;
- support for the work of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities and other Jewish community organizations in Latvia;
- management of the property of the Jewish Community of Latvia and the Foundation;
- support of Latvian museum programs, whose work focuses on research of the Jewish community of Latvia and the history of the Holocaust in the territory of Latvia;
- the financing of events and projects related to religion, culture, education, science, health care, history, sport, charity;
- promoting the integration, unity and development of civil society in Latvia; and
- the provision of social and material assistance to those victims of the Holocaust who live outside of Latvia.
Approximately 95,000 Jewish people lived in Latvia before the war. About 9,500 Jewish people currently reside in the country.
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