Photos and report by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, in which B'nai B'rith International is a founding member.
Almost seven decades after the Holocaust, the demand for justice for Holocaust survivors has intensified. During a two day conference in Prague held this week to review progress made with respect to the restitution of property seized during the Holocaust, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) urged East and Central European countries to do what is right and return, or pay fair compensation, to the survivors from whom it was wrongfully taken.
“While progress has taken place since the fall of Communism and subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, there remains an urgent need to help the tens of thousands of elderly Holocaust victims and their heirs whose property claims remain unsatisfied,” said WJRO President Ronald Lauder.
In response to the ongoing Immovable Property Review Conference (IPRC), which took place at the Czernin Palace, home to the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, WJRO President Ronald Lauder noted that the meeting was another reminder of the need for prompt action.
Lauder remarked that Poland, Latvia, and Romania, Lauder were particular areas of concern. After more than two decades of foot dragging, WJRO is appalled that the government in Warsaw now adamantly refuses to offer any legislative gestures to address languishing private property claims. WJRO calls for Latvia to finally enact appropriate legislation for the return of Jewish communal property, concluding many years of discussion. Meanwhile, WJRO is disappointed that Romania, which did enact restitution laws, has failed to address the bureaucratic delays that have stalled the restitution and compensation process.
Conference Co-Chairman, Czech First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Jiri Schneider, declared before all of the diplomats in attendance that “injustices have to be addressed.” What was wrongfully taken must be returned to their rightful owners. Ambassador Colette Avital, Chair, Centre of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said, "It is long past time. Many survivors, whose property was taken from them, are now in need. Give them back what was stolen from them so they can live their years with some dignity."
The conference, organized by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, follows up on the Terezín Declaration, the Joint Declaration of the European Commission and 2009 Czech European Council Presidency and the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices for the Restitution and Compensation of Immovable (Real) Property. The attendees are deliberating legislative developments and implementation, best practices, and legal and bureaucratic hurdles in restituting or compensating for communal, private, and heirless property.
Established in 1992, WJRO is an umbrella organization of international Jewish groups. WJRO seeks restitution of private and communal Jewish property and compensation when restitution is not possible and works with both governmental and Jewish organizations in order to assure appropriate restitution legislation and recovery of looted Jewish property.
WJRO member organizations attending the IPRC include: the American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; B’nai B’rith International; Claims Conference; European Jewish Congress; NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; and World Jewish Congress.
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