Almost seven decades after the end of World War II, the demand for justice for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust has intensified. During a conference held in Prague to review progress in respect to the restitution of Jewish property seized during and after World War II, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) has urged Central and Eastern 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 S. Lauder, who is also the president of the World Jewish Congress.
In response to the Immovable Property Review Conference (IPRC), which took place at the Czernin Palace, home to the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, in Prague, Lauder noted that the meeting was another reminder of the need for prompt action. He remarked that Poland, Latvia, and Romania were particular areas of concern. “After more than two decades of foot dragging, the 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. We are disappointed that Romania, which did enact restitution laws, has failed to address the bureaucratic delays that have stalled the restitution and compensation process,” said Lauder.
The co-chairman of the conference, Czech First Deputy Foreign Minister Jiri Schneider, told the diplomats and NGO representatives in attendance that “injustices have to be addressed.” What was wrongfully taken had to be returned to their rightful owners. Colette Avital, the chair of the Center 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 and the Czech Foreign Ministry, follows up on the Terezín Declaration, the Joint Declaration of the European Commission, the 2009 Czech European Council Presidency and the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices for the Restitution and Compensation of Immovable (Real) Property. The attendees deliberated legislative developments and implementation, best practices, and legal and bureaucratic hurdles in restituting or compensating for communal, private, and heirless property.
Established in 1992 by the World Jewish Congress among others, the World Jewish Restitution Organization is an umbrella body of international Jewish groups. It 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 in Prague included the American Jewish Committee; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; B’nai B’rith International; the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany; the European Jewish Congress; NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; and the World Jewish Congress.