The proposed legislation provides €37 million as symbolic compensation for private property expropriated during the Holocaust and addresses heirless Jewish property.
New York, NY, November 20, 2022–The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes legislation introduced by Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė addressing restitution claims of Holocaust victims. The new legislation being proposed by the government would provide €37 million as symbolic compensation to private claimants and to the Lithuanian Goodwill Foundation with respect to heirless Jewish property.
Prime minister Šimonytė’s proposal is an important step to providing a measure of justice to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and their families for the horrors they suffered during World War II and its aftermath. We look forward to the opportunity to review this new legislation which would continue the process of property restitution and support Jewish life in Lithuania.
Over a decade ago following intensive negotiations with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and WJRO, the Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas, passed legislation to pay €37 million in compensation for former Jewish communal property. This payment represented only a partial value of the properties, but it provided much needed funds to support Jewish communal life in Lithuania, restored several Jewish heritage sites and offered modest payments to needy survivors.
The new measures being proposed by prime minister Šimonytė would double these funds. A portion of it will be directed to making payments to some claimants who had originally sought compensation for private property but were unfairly rejected under the existing law. The remaining funds, which will extend annual payments to the Goodwill Foundation for another seven years, represent the Lithuanian government’s acknowledgment of ownerless Jewish property, referenced in the 2009 Terezin Declaration. This will have a significant impact on strengthening and supporting Jewish communal life in Lithuania and addressing the welfare needs of the elderly, even though it may only be a fraction of the value of prewar Jewish property. It also sets Lithuania apart from most other countries in the region that have yet to take any measure with respect to heirless property.
The decision of the prime minister followed lengthy discussions with Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs at the American Jewish Committee. The two serve as the co-chairs of the Goodwill Foundation.
WJRO, the Jewish Community of Lithuania and the Association of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Communities formed the Foundation for the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage in 2005. In 2011, the Foundation for Lithuanian Jewish Heritage established the Goodwill Foundation to distribute the €36 million compensation provided by the government pursuant to the legislation passed that year. In 2014, the Good Will Foundation allocated its first grants to programs to support Jewish life. Approximately $1.1 million of the initial compensation offered in the legislation provided for symbolic payments to over 1,550 surviving Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust victims worldwide. The remaining resources are being paid out over ten years to fund religious, cultural, health care and educational programs for Lithuanian Jews.
During WWII the Nazis and local collaborators annihilated over 90% of the 220,000 Jews in Lithuania. About 5,000 Jews currently live there.
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WJRO represents world Jewry in pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish properties in Europe (outside of Germany and Austria). WJRO was established by leading world Jewish organizations to address the restitution of Jewish property and to remind the world that the time has come to redress the enormous material wrongs caused to European Jewry during the Holocaust.
Full statement available here.