B'nai B'rith International participated in a World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) social media campaign to call attention to the issue of Holocaust-era property restitution. The Guardian reported on the campaign.
The campaign was supported on Facebook and Twitter (under #HolocaustJustice) by a number of high profile Jewish individuals, including former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman, daughter of Holocaust survivors; jurist and author Professor Alan Dershowitz; and actor Joshua Malina (“Scandal,” “The West Wing”).
B'nai B'rith International is a founding member of WJRO.
Click below to read the article on TheGuardian.com.
Campaigners call on 47 countries to honour pledge made seven years ago to ensure restitution for theft of property
Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors are spending the final years of their lives in financial hardship while waiting for governments across Europe to compensate them for property stolen during the Nazi era.
Despite a declaration by 47 countries seven years ago to ensure restitution for the theft of Jewish property during the Holocaust, many of the 500,000 survivors still alive are yet to be compensated, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO).
Timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, the WJRO has organised a social media campaign under the hashtag #HolocaustJustice to put pressure on those countries to act on their 2009 commitment.
Among those backing the campaign are former UK foreign secretary David Miliband, scientist Robert Winston, former US senator Joe Lieberman and West Wing actor Joshua Malina.
Launching the campaign, survivor Jehuda Evron said he fought for 20 years for the return of property taken by the Nazis that belonged to his wife’s family.
“Now I am in my 80s. Until the day I die, I will not give up. Every day, the few remaining Holocaust survivors are passing away. Sadly, many of these survivors will die in poverty, without benefiting from their property. Our struggle for justice cannot die with us.”
Evron appealed to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to continue the battle for restitution. “Future generations need to continue efforts to recover what the Nazis, their allies and collaborators, as well as subsequent Communist governments, unjustly took from us and our families and Jewish communities.”
Baroness Deech, another supporter of the campaign, said: “Holocaust survivors and their families have waited over seven decades for a small measure of justice for the theft of their property. It is incumbent upon us as members of the next generation to take up this call for justice and urge governments in Europe to act now while the remaining survivors are still with us.”
Thousands of works of art, worth billions of dollars, were looted from Jewish owners in the run-up to and during the Holocaust. Many have been recovered and returned. But the theft and confiscation of Jewish property extended to buildings, furniture, jewellery, clothing, books, cash and other valuables and assets.
In 2009, the Terezin Declaration was approved at a conference in Prague. It pledged that “every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups.”
However, according to the WJRO, many of the signatories have no laws to provide restitution or compensation, and others have laws which may be exclusionary or whose processes are slow or unjust.
The 47 signatories to the Terezin Declaration were Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, , Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.
B'nai B'rith International was featured on JBS (formerly Shalom TV), commending the efforts of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) for securing restitution properties from the Croatian government to benefit the Zagreb Jewish community.
B'nai B'rith International is one of 14 member organizations, and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head of the WJRO negotiating team.
The story begins at the 4:41 mark in the video:
On Wednesday, Dec. 3rd, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) announced the transfer of a government building in Croatia to the local Jewish community as restitution for properties illegally seized by the government.
B'nai B'rith International is a member organization of the WJRO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head negotiator when the organization meets with European governments.
In 2009, 46 European countries, including Croatia, signed the Terezin Declaration, a non-binding pledge to restitute stolen property to the rightful heirs and Jewish community. In April of 2014, Mariaschin explained why this declaration has been easier said than done (via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency):
"We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s. What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task."
Negotiations were completed yesterday, with a $4 million government property being turned over to the Jewish community. Read highlights from the announcement, via the JTA, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva and The Jewish Forward.
The organization noted that country's restitution law does not apply to property seized during World War II, nor does it allow claims from citizens of most foreign countries.
Croatia has also not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Before World War II, an estimated 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; only 6000 survived. The rest were killed or deported to Germany by local authorities or the German Army itself. The exact figures remain disputed.
Some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia today, mostly in Zagreb.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) is "the legal and moral representative of world Jewry in pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish properties in Europe."
B'nai B'rith International is one of 14 member organizations, and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head of the WJRO negotiating team.
Earlier today, WJRO was proud to release the following statement, announcing the return of property to the Jewish community in Croatia, which amounts to nearly $4 million.
Read the release in its entirety, below:
‘Important First Step in Addressing Nation’s Holocaust Legacy’
NEW YORK, Dec. 3, 2014 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the Croatian government’s transfer of a valuable parcel of land and office building in central Zagreb to the local Jewish community.
Croatia will restitute the government-owned property at 6 Dezmanova St., a 6-story building situated on 874 square meters of land, in lieu of a building once owned by the Jewish burial society. That original Jewish-owned building, now in use by another entity, was expropriated during World War II and then nationalized by the Communist government.
“This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalize itself in a democratic Croatia,” Daniel S. Mariaschin, head of the WJRO negotiating team and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said. “The income from this restituted property, valued at about $4 million, will help to fund the operation of the Zagreb Jewish Community’s facility for the elderly, among other essential communal needs.”
“We welcome this latest decision by the Croatian government,” WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor said, adding, “We ask that the government build on this positive action by returning additional properties to the Jewish community and providing restitution for private and heirless Jewish-owned properties.”
The original Jewish-owned building at 8 Amruseva St. was built in 1927 by the Jewish burial society, a social welfare institution serving the Zagreb Jewish Community. The Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia confiscated the property in 1941. After a brief return to the Jewish community in 1947, the building was nationalized by the government a month later. The property is currently owned by the Croatian Agricultural Cooperative Union. The Zagreb Jewish Community filed a claim for the return of the property in 1997.
Croatia’s decision comes ahead of Dec. 8-9 negotiations with WJRO representatives and after joint negotiations in April with WJRO representatives and a U.S. delegation led by Amb. Douglas Davidson, who then served as the special envoy for Holocaust issues, and Kenneth Merten, ambassador to Croatia. The talks occur in close coordination with the Zagreb Jewish Community.
Originally, the restituted property was owned by the Kleins, a Jewish family killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Croatian government in 1950 nationalized the property, which was later given to Croatian Radio Television. The government later took possession of the property because of tax debts.
Before World War II, more than 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; about 6,000 of them survived. The wartime Independent State of Croatia was ruled by the fascist Ustaše regime, which murdered Jews and others in concentration camps in Croatia, including Jasenovac, while overseeing deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today, some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia, mostly in Zagreb.
Croatia’s Jewish communities had submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia’s 1996 restitution law, yet only 15 non-cemetery properties were ever returned. Jewish private property owners from Croatia generally have not recovered their properties because the country’s restitution law does not apply to property seized during the Holocaust or allow claims by citizens of most foreign countries. Croatia also has not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated during the Holocaust.
Arie Bucheister, who also led the WJRO talks and serves as chief of staff of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said, “We thank the American government for its sustained leadership on restitution in Croatia. We also commend the government of Israel for its ongoing support of WJRO’s restitution efforts.”
Both B’nai B’rith International and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany are WJRO member-organizations.
With time running out for survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi-era atrocities in Europe, the French government is taking steps to return some 2,000 pieces of art stolen 70 years ago.
According to Washington Jewish Week, officials from the French National Assembly visited B'nai B'rith International headquarters in Washington to discuss ways to restore looted artifacts to their rightful owners. This is critical dialogue and marks a policy shift for France, which has been criticized for its reluctance to return the art.
Read the highlights from the wide-ranging article, below:
The French officials met with representatives of B’nai B’rith International in the District and visited New York State’s Department of Finance, two very different organizations that share the same expertise sought by the French lawmakers: restoring stolen Nazi art to its rightful owners.
Returning the art to its rightful owners is no easy task, said Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs for B’nai B’rith International.
“Most survivors are deceased now. We’re really talking about descendants now and most don’t have documentation. They have anecdotes and might not be able to name a specific work. That’s part of the challenge.”
But with B’nai B’rith, the group talked about specifics, according to Gerard Leval, the organization’s general counsel, who took part in the meeting.
“It was good to hear people who sincerely want to do the right thing,” he said. “Almost nothing during the Holocaust was random [including the theft of art]. We said, ‘Go to your documents – when it was taken, from whom it was taken, and from where it was taken.’ ”
The B’nai B’rith group suggested that the French advertise in publications with Jewish readers in the United States and Argentina, Leval said. They also pointed out that with anti-Semitism and xenophobia flaring up in France, the government could score propaganda points by showing that it “was doing its very best in areas where it can help the Jewish population,” he added.
Fusfield isn’t ready to declare victory yet. He recalled the March ceremony in Paris where the French culture minister returned three looted works to the grandchildren of the original owners. The restitution coincided with the French premiere of the George Clooney movieMonuments Men, about GIs working to recover looted art.
“So that’s three,” Fusfield said.
“Hollande has open the doors and that’s great,” Soltes said. “But there is other stuff, French decorative arts – tables, chairs, Louis XIV, XV, XVI owned by Jewish families. The French have stonewalled on them. You can see how interestingly self-contradictory this whole effort can be.”
“Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heir-less,” the June 2009 declaration stated.
But five years on, progress on securing restitution has been painstakingly slow.
The lingering Euro Zone crisis has hampered efforts to get Eastern European countries to pass restitution legislation. The Terezin Declaration, while verbally bold, did not require any concrete commitments — or even the signatures of those countries present. Poland, the only European country occupied by the Nazis that has not enacted substantial private property restitution, did not even bother to show up for a follow-up conference in 2012.
In fact, since 2009, Lithuania has been the only country to enact substantial restitution legislation: a $53 million package announced in 2011, to be paid out over 10 years for communal property seized during the Holocaust.
“Most countries resist having to engage in restitution or compensation for lost property,” said Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust restitution issues.
The week before Passover, Davidson was in Zagreb with Jewish restitution leaders negotiating with Croatian government officials. Croatia is one of the few countries that negotiators say is holding serious restitution talks and where a deal is conceivable in the foreseeable future.
“They want to do it, they know they should do it, but their economy is in disastrous shape and by their reckoning it would cost them 1 billion euros to compensate for property that was nationalized by the communist regime in Yugoslavia after the war,” Davidson said.
In a bid to add some fuel to the campaign for restitution in countries that are dragging their feet, the World Jewish Restitution Organization is mounting a new effort to drum up public and political pressure within the European Union. In February, the group helped orchestrate a letter by 50 British parliamentarians to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pressing him on restitution.
“Unfortunately, Poland stands out in its failure to fulfill — or even recognize — its responsibility to victims,” said the letter, whose primary signatory was Baroness Ruth Deech. A Jewish member of the House of Lords, Deech had grandparents on both sides of her family who owned substantial property in Poland.
“Poland has a responsibility to elderly Holocaust survivors, their heirs and other victims to return property which was seized by the Nazis or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regimes,” the letter said. “Democratic Poland continues unjustly to benefit from the victims’ private property. Many of these victims and their heirs — both Jews and non-Jews — are British citizens.”
This month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague lent his support to the campaign.
“Europe is a partner that is as important and in some cases more important than the United States,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chairman of operations. “Making this a multilateral issue is going to be the way we need to go if we really want to use the last few years survivors are with us.”
The Obama administration also is trying to strengthen restitution efforts, with Vice President Joe Biden reportedly raising the issue in private meetings with European leaders.
During the heyday of Holocaust restitution legislation in the 1990s, the newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe viewed restitution as a way to curry favor with the West and improve their chances of gaining admission to NATO. Holocaust restitution often came up in U.S. Senate hearings on NATO membership, and it was during that era that several major restitution agreements were reached. The opening of state archives after the fall of the Iron Curtain helped keep a spotlight on the issue.
When Germany reunified in 1990, the restitution of East German properties once owned by Jews was a condition of the nation’s reunification agreement, and since then more than $3 billion in assets have been restituted.
Today, the main leverage for negotiators is the demand for justice, as well as the urgency of getting deals done before the last generation of survivors dies out.
“We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which is a member of the WJRO. “What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task.”
Hungary’s government must do more to condemn political anti-Semitism, the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy said in a letter to Jewish groups.
“Prime Minister Viktor Orban strongly denounced anti-Semitism in his address to the World Jewish Congress in Budapest last month,” said the June 25 letter from Ira Forman. A number of American Jewish groups wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in mid-May about the phenomenon...
Signatories included Agudath Israel of America, American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Hadassah, HIAS, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Federations of North America, NCSJ, the Rabbinical Assembly, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Simon Wiesenthal Center, World Jewish Congress and World Jewish Restitution Organization...more.
A global Jewish group urged central and east European countries on Wednesday to return or provide compensation for property seized during the Holocaust and accused Poland, Latvia and Romania in particular of foot-dragging.
After a conference in Prague, the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO) said tens of thousands of Nazi Holocaust victims and their heirs had not been able to resolve claims on stolen property despite two decades of trying since the fall of post-war communist regimes in central and eastern Europe...more.
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