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December 14, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 14, 2012 PAGE 17A By Dinah Spritzer PRAGUE (JTA)--The fol- lowing is a rundown of som~ Eastern European countries and where they stand on restitution: Poland: Has not enacted any form of private restitu- tion or compensation for an estimated $30.5 billion worth of property confis- cated by the Nazis, then the communists. The Jew- ish share of claims on the properties is estimated at 20 percent to 27 percent. Poland has a burdensome process for restitution of Jewish communal property. As of Aug. 31, of the-total bf 5,504 authorized claims filed by Jewish communities, the pertinent Regulatory Commission had adjudi- cated (entirely or partially) only 2,289 claims. Most properties returned are the least valuable and require a considerable amount of investment for main- tenance to comply with Polish preservation law. Romania: More than 200,000 private properly claims were submitted pur- suant to the 2003 deadline set under Romania's private restitution law. As of 2010, only some 119,000 of the claims had been adjudi- cated; of the adjudicated claims, in fewer than half was some sort of remedy proposed. As of 2010, only 5 percent (or about 10,300) of the more than 200,000 claims were determined to be eligible for compensa- tiono(but compensation has not yet necessarily been received). The fund created to provide compensation has been suspended and critics have called the restitutiofl process corrupt. Latvia: Three hundred communal properties have never been returned or com- pensated. Since the failure of a 2006 bill at an estimated value of 32 million LVL, or $60 million, nothing has been accomplised despite many new attempts and prime ministerial commis- sions to study the issue. Some of the most im- proved countries on the is- sue are Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Serbia. Lithuania: After consid7 ering several versions of restitution legislation, in 2009, the government pro- posed a compensation law based on what it claimed was 30 percent of the of- ficial value of those 152 properties. In June 2011, Lithuania's parliament ap- proved the Law on Good Will Compensation for the Real Estate of Jewish Religious Communities authorizing the payment of 128 million htas (approximately $53 million) from 2013 to 202'3" to compensate the Jewish community for communal property seized by the Nazi and Soviet occupation re- gimes. The law provides that the compensation is to be used for religious, cultural, health, sports and educational needs of Jews in Lithuania. Under the law, compensation funds will be transferred to a foundation designated by the government that will be administered by a governing body representing the Jew- ish Community in Lithu- ania, the Religious Jewish Community of Lithuania and other Jewish religious, health, cultural and educa- tion organizations. The law also provides that 3 million litas (approximately $1.25 million) will be made in one-time payments in 2012 "to support people of Jew- ish nationality who lived in Lithuania and suffered from totalitarian regimes during the period of occupation." Czech Republic: In No- vember, the lower house of Parliament approved a plan to return billions of dollars worth of communal prop- erty that was confiscated from Jews and Christians by previous communist gov- ernments. According to the bill, the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities is set to receive $500,000 a year over 30 years. By Dinah Spritzer PRAGUE (JTA)--In 1988, Yehuda Evron received a memorable letter from Lech Walesa, the first post-com- munist president of Poland, on the eve of the country's transition to democracy. "He wrote that within a few months we would get my wife's property back," recalled Evron, now 80. His wife was the only Holocaust survivor of a family that" owned a residential build- ing and factory in gwienec that had been confiscated by the Nazis and then seized by Poland's communist government. Evron, a Romanian emi- gre and leader of the New York-based Holocaust Res- titution Committee, which represents claims of thou- sands of survivors from Poland, Chortled bitterly recently when recalling .his initial optimism after corresponding with Walesa. Nearly 25 years have passed since, many more survivors have died and Polish leaders repeatedly have reneged on promises to enact a restitu- tion law to compensate for the billions of dollars in property stolen from Jews and non-Jews during and after the Holocaust. Home to more Jews than any other country before World War II, Poland is now the only European country to endure Nazi occupation that has not enacted a law to ensure some kind of private property compensation or restitution to Holocaust survivors or their heirs. Evron talked to JTA at a meeting in Prague two weeks ago, called the Im- movable Property Review Conference, which was organized as a follow-up to a 2009 conference in this city that produced a historic resolution on Holocaust assets. The resolution, called the 2009 Terezin Declaration, was signed by 46 countries that com- mitted to speeding up the restitution of private and communal property to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. This year's conference and the 2009 parley were organized and supported by the Czech Foreign Min- istry, U.S.-based Jewish organizations and the U.S. State Department, with participation from coun- tries throughout Europe. At the gathering two weeks ago, many of the references to 2009 were in the form of laments that so little had been accom- plished in three years. "In sum, restitution of property confiscated dur- ing the Holocaust proceeds exceedingly slowly, if at all," said a report prepared for the conference by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an umbrella group. The focus remains on Central and Eastern Eu- rope, where compensation for communal and private property seizures began in the 1990s and in most cases continues at a glacial pace. In Croatia, for example, the main progress since 2009 has been the proposal of an amendment eliminat- !ng a citizenship require- ment imposed by Croatia's restitution law--but the amendment has not been submitted to lawmakers for consideration. Romania, all com- pensation to private prop- erty claimants has been suspended; critics blame a corrupt and bankrupt compensation fund. In Latvia, where 300 Jew- ish communal properties were never returned, a bill offering some compensa- tion has been stalled for six years. In Hungary, Prime Minis- ter Viktor Orban has with- held the final two years of a government compensation program to aid Hungarian survivors who reside out- side the country. "Notwithstanding its res- titution laws, Hungary has, in a number of respects, failed to meet standards advanced in the guidelines" established at the 2009 Prague conference, the WJRO report said. In Hun- gary, "there are prolonged, unreasonable delays in ad- judicating property claims and in making the com- pensation payments once claims are positively de- cided, while the guidelines insist on prompt decisions and payment." There have been a few bright spots. In 2011, Lithuania au- thorized payment of about $50 million over 10 years to compensate the Jewish community for communal property seized by the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes. Serbia passed a restitution bill affecting Jews and non-Jews that the Jewish communityexpects eventually will address Ho- locaust claims specifically. Last month, the Czech Republic's lower house of parliament approved a plan to return billions of dollars worth ofcommunal prop- erty confiscated from Jews and Christians by previous communist governments. If the bill passes, the Czech Federation of Jewish Com- munifies is set to receive $500,000 a year over 30 years. The worst restitution re- corA, conference goers said, belongs to Poland. In 2010, Terezin D clara- tion signatories approved a set of nonbinding best prac- tices, such as suggesting solutions to the problem of heirless property and mak- ing the claims process more transparent and affordable. After initially agreeing to the document, Poland made an abrupt about-face and withdrew its support. To add salt to an already f%- tering diplomatic wound, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in 2011 went on Polish radio to complafn of U.S. pressure on restitution issues. "If the United States would have wanted to help Polish Jews, a good moment for that would have been 1943-44, when the major- ity of them were still alive," Sikorski quipped. At the recent conference, Poland was the only signa- tory to the 2009 Terezin Declaration that did not send a delegate. "It says a lot that they refuse to even engage," said Greg Schneider, execu- tive vice president of the Claims Conference, which is responsible for Holocaust restitution from Germany and Austria. Stuart Eizenstat, a for- mer U.S. deputy treasury secretary who served as special representative of the U.S. president and secretary of state for Holocaust issues during the Clinton admin- istration, told JTA that he was disappointed in Poland but insisted the country was not a'lost cause. "When I began going hat in hand to these Eastern European governments in the 1990s, no one would have ever imagined we could have gotten all the agreements that are in place for the "return of prop- erty," Eizenstat said. "In Poland, you have a process for the return of religious communal property, and that's thanks to the pres- sure of conferences like these." A counselor at the Polish Embassy in Prague, Isabella Wollejko-Chwastowicz, told JTA that a compensation law was "so complicated" that it was just taking a long time for the government review. The explanation :ontradicts the most recent )ublic Polish government ,osition that Jewish groups imply are demanding too inch. Baroness Ruth Deech, a roperty expert and mem- er of Britain's House of ords, said Poland's posi- on is infuriating. "Looking at it from the .ltside, we read that 60 rcent of Poles oppose ,irate restitution and that le Jewish community in land today is fearful that l'essing for justice will rye rise to anti-Semitism," ae told an audience at the l, ague conference. Poland's chief rabbi, lew York native Michael 'chudrich, countered that Ioles' aversion toward res- titution is economic, not mti-Semitic. But failing to come to agreement on a restitution bill could be more costly for Poland, restitution advo- cates note. Jews could press private property claims in court, and the lack of clar- ity on land ownership in iCo jeszcze mamy odda6 ......... i: :1 i .... ] : ] Ii Angora The Polish magazine Angora's controversial cover April 17, 2011 featuring a picture of two Orthodox Jews staring toward Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science with a speech bubble stating, "Son, some day all this will be yours." Poland hinders economic development. In Warsaw, for example, one-third of the city's real estate was in Jewish hands before World War II, according to Eizen- stat, who is still involved in restitution negotiations and works as a pro bono consultant to the Claims Conference. Eizenstat said he hopes economic arguments will convince Polish officials to move ahead with resti- tution. "A restitution law would also help Poland deal with the expensive issue of un- clear land ownership that already harms its economic interests," he said. Such appeals to the pock- etbook are significant, since the West can no longer hold . out admission or rejection into the European Union or NATO as an incentive, said Rabbi Andrew Baker, direc- tor of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee and a longtime restitution gotiator. Eastern European countries already have won admittance to these inter- national bodies. If you cannot prove eco- nomic self-interest, then you need to convince gov- ernments to provide restitu- tion by continuing to appeal to the leaders' moral con- science, Baker suggested. For his part, Evron con- tinues to press his wife's case with Poland. But he doesn't have high hopes. He bemoaned Poland's tactic of forcing claimants to spend years and thousands of dollars pressing their cases in Polish courts, where they are frequently asked to produce evidence destroyed during World War II. Even when victory is achieved, like a positive decision re- cently granted for his wife's residential building claim, cases are turned over to the Finance Ministry for review, Evron said. "I asked my lawyer how long the review would take. He answered, could be a year, could be forever," Evron said. "I have now spent more money on this case than the building isworth and my son asks why bother? My answer: It's the principle that mat- ters. You take something, you give it back."