JERUSALEM, Nov. 3 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization’s efforts to achieve a measure of justice and compassion for Holocaust survivors were bolstered this week when the President of the European Parliament, and the Government of the United Kingdom, declared their commitment to press for the return of property taken from Jewish communities and victims during World War II.
The support came in two separate letters: one from European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and a second from British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Baroness Anelay.
In the first, President Schulz declared that he fully endorsed the return of property and possessions unjustly taken from Jewish communities and victims during the Holocaust.
“I personally acknowledge the importance of the restitution of and compensation for immovable property, Jewish art heritage and other cultural assets pillaged during the Holocaust and its aftermath,” President Schulz stated in a letter to MEP Gunnar Hökmark of Sweden, chair of the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors. “I therefore fully endorse implementation of the European Parliament resolutions on the Return of Plundered Property to Jewish Communities and the Restitution of the Possessions of Holocaust Victims.”
Schulz’s letter, released last week, described restitution in the context of the European Parliament’s role as a “fierce defender of democracy and respect for the rights and dignity of all human beings, regardless of their ethnic or social origin, religion or beliefs.”
Schulz wrote in response to a letter from the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors (EAHS), which was launched last year by WJRO. Thirty-six Members of the European Parliament from diverse parties and countries signed the EAHS letter calling for strengthening efforts for the restitution of Holocaust-era property, and related concerns facing Holocaust survivors.
Schulz stated: “You may count upon my political support when it comes to discussing matters such as the restitution of goods, social welfare support for Holocaust survivors, the preservation of Jewish cemeteries, supporting educational projects aimed at raising awareness and the remembrance of the tragic events which unfolded in the first part of the twentieth century, at both the European and international level.”
WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor hailed President Schulz’s letter, calling it “a major step forward to address with compassion and justice the care of aging Holocaust survivors, and the return of property unjustly taken during the Holocaust and its aftermath.”
“We look forward to working with President Schulz and the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors in fulfilling this sacred obligation to assist Holocaust survivors in the twilight of their lives,” Taylor said.
MEP Hökmark said: “On behalf of the EAHS, we sincerely welcome the letter from President Schulz, which reaffirms the European Parliament’s strong commitment to the restitution of property to Holocaust victims and their heirs, and to Jewish communities in Europe. The European Parliament must continue to call for restitution as integral to the rule of law and respect for the rights and dignity of survivors and their families.”
In the second letter, addressed to the WJRO and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Baroness Anelay declared Britain’s resolve to urge Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe to fulfill their responsibility to ageing Holocaust survivors so they can live their remaining days with dignity. She was responding to a September 29 joint letter from WJRO’s Taylor and Board Chief Executive Gillian Merron requesting that the British government redouble its efforts for Holocaust restitution.
“This Government attaches great significance to supporting the families tragically affected by the Holocaust – including on the important issue of property restitution,” Minister Anelay stated in the October 25 letter. “We will continue to press for due recognition for victims in countries such as Poland and beyond. We value our close working relationship with both your organizations in taking this work forward.”
Baroness Anelay cited the 2009 Terezin Declaration, in which the United Kingdom and 46 other countries affirmed the importance of restitution of private property, as well as Jewish communal and heirless property.
“The UK remains committed to working with international partners to encourage the full implementation of the Terezin Declaration,” she wrote.
In response, Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron said: “We are heartened by the strong support for property restitution for Holocaust survivors expressed by Baroness Anelay on behalf of the Government. The United Kingdom has long played a leadership role in pursuing justice for Holocaust survivors and we look forward to making progress together.”
WJRO’s Taylor said: “More than 70 years after the Holocaust, we are committed to getting survivors the support they need to live their remaining days in dignity. Restitution will also help Jewish communities devastated by the Holocaust to sustain and revitalize themselves.”
EU Parliament President Schulz’s letter can be found here.
The EAHS letter can be found here.
Examples of European Parliament resolutions on restitution can be found here.
Baroness Anelay’s letter can be found here.
The Board of Deputies and WJRO letter can be found here.
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