Elan Steinberg, a driving force behind the campaign during the 1990s for restitution of Jewish properties stolen by the Nazis and their Communist successors, died Friday after a brief struggle with cancer. He was 60.
As the creative and media savvy executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, he played a critical leadership role in the helping galvanize American government backing for efforts to convince European governments, Swiss banks, insurance companies, museums and other entities to restore the property stolen during the Holocaust era.
He would say that the real goal of the campaign was moral as well as material restitution – "justice for the victims, for the survivors and for their families."
I had the honor of working with Elan and the WJC during the 1990s on the restitution. The Clinton Administration and the Republican-led Congress put aside their political differences to work closely and effectively to produce historic results. The administration effort was led by Stuart Eizenstat, who carried that portfolio as a senior official first in the Treasury Department and later the State Department.
Steinberg left the WJC in 2004 and in recent years was vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants as well as an advisor to current WJC president Ronald Lauder.
"Elan was a passionate advocate for the Jewish people, for the State of Israel, and for any Jew anywhere in the world who was persecuted or threatened," said Menachem Rosensaft, a longtime friend and fellow vice president of the American Gathering. "His brilliant mind and his great heart have no equal and are irreplaceable. He died tragically all too young, and the entire Jewish community is orphaned today."