More than 70 years after the end of the Shoah, survivors and their families, Jewish organizations, and communities across Europe continue to seek the restitution of property of Holocaust victims.
There have been important steps forward in the past few months. In February, the Serbian parliament passed legislation that will address heirless Jewish property by providing significant funding and returning property owned by Jews before the war to the Serbian Jewish community.
That same month, the Latvian parliament passed a law to return five former Jewish communal buildings — two synagogues, two schools and a nursing home — to the Latvian Jewish community. And a thousand Romanian Holocaust survivors in Israel, many of whom live on a government pension of just $800 per month, each recently received a payment of up to $1,700 paid from the proceeds of restituted Jewish communal assets in Romania.
But much remains to be done in the few years while survivors are with us.
Against this backdrop, the World Jewish Restitution Organization is launching a major new grassroots campaign in advance of Yom Hashoah to unite Holocaust survivors and younger generations in the ongoing effort for the restitution of property stolen from Holocaust victims.
“I ask that the generations of those born after the Holocaust commit to continue the struggle that our generation started,” urges Holocaust survivor Jehuda Evron in the campaign’s Call to Action.
Over 30 major Jewish organizations, as well as internationally-known personalities, have already joined this effort.
Why does restitution matter?
Restitution is about more than the money or property involved. It is an acknowledgement of history and a step toward justice.
The theft of Jewish property was an integral part of the Holocaust.
Jews in Serbia, Latvia, Romania and across Europe suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. Those horrors began with the invasion of their communities and the theft of their property, and for most of them, ended in death. By the summer of 1942, virtually no Jews remained in Serbia. Of the nearly 100,000 Jews in Latvia before the Holocaust, only hundreds remained in 1944. And at least 270,000 Romanian Jews were killed during the Shoah.
Behind each of the successful restitution efforts this year are individual stories. Each home, business, or synagogue returned is a small measure of justice. And behind each of those items of property stood a person, a family and a community victimized in the Shoah.
We will never know all those individual stories, but through pursuing restitution, we can seek to record the legacy of those who were lost, provide needed assistance to those survivors who remain, and help rebuild the communities that were destroyed.
The Terezin Declaration, which was endorsed by 47 countries in 2009 noted, “the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution” and the Participating States urged “that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures . . . which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups.”
The World Jewish Restitution Organization, which represents 14 major global Jewish organizations, has undertaken, over the past few years, a renewed effort to press for Holocaust restitution in Eastern Europe.
The path ahead is not easy. Some countries have passed legislation or initiated programs to provide for the return of private or communal former Jewish property. Others have not. Looming large among those that have not addressed the issue of private property is Poland — home to three million Jews before the war.
With survivors passing away and memories fading, now is the time for us all — survivors and the next generations — to join together in the struggle for historical justice.
Please respond to the Call to Action by signing the petition here.