10 November 2010
For the first time in the 20 years since the country’s independence, Lithuania’s parliament has debated and given its initial backing for a plan to provide some compensation for communal property seized from Jewish communities by the Nazi and Soviet regimes during and after World War II. "It is a moral and a political as well as a legal compensation act," Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius told the legislature on Thursday. A final vote on the government’s proposal is expected in December, and Simasius expressed hope the bill will be adopted until the end of the year. About 90 percent of the 220,000 Jews living in Lithuania prior to World War II were murdered during the Holocaust, and only a few thousand remain in the Baltic state today.
During five decades of Soviet rule, Jewish property which had been seized by the Nazis was kept by the state, and much remained in its hands after independence from Moscow in 1991. Both the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the local Jewish community have long campaigned for Lithuania to address the issue of restitution.
The government last year proposed paying around US$ 52 million for seized Jewish "religious communal" property, which includes buildings used for education and cultural purposes. Only a few synagogue buildings were returned to the community on an individual basis previously.
The compensation would be paid over a period lasting until 2023 from an assigned fund which can be used only to finance Jewish cultural, religious, charitable and educational needs. A small amount of the fund would be paid as support to Holocaust survivors by March 2011.
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