The conference provided an important opportunity for advancing the rights of Holocaust survivors around the world. In many countries in Europe, there are still no laws concerning restitution or compensation for Holocaust-era looted property.
(Communicated by MFA Spokesperson’s Bureau)
The International Coordination Forum for the Restitution of Holocaust (Shoah) Era Assets convened for the first time in Jerusalem at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 8-9 June 2016, in collaboration with the Ministry for Social Equality. The aim of the conference was to better coordinate the joint efforts to promote the restitution of property looted during the Holocaust era. Even 70 years after the Holocaust, much of the looted property has not been returned to the surviving owners and the families of the victims, mainly in central and eastern European states. Considering the advanced age of the remaining survivors, the issue is urgent.
The forum opened with a written welcome from President Reuven Rivlin, and opening speeches were delivered by Mr. Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Jewish Agency, Mr. Avi Cohen, Director General of the Ministry for Social Equality, and Mr. Yuval Rotem, Head of the Public Diplomacy Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The conference was attended by diplomats from all over the world, among them special envoys and special representatives for Holocaust-related issues from the United States, Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Britain. Ambassadors from Romania, the Czech Republic and Serbia, as well as diplomatic representatives from the EU delegation in Israel and from the embassies of Slovakia, Latvia, Croatia, France, Austria and others, took part as observers. Other attendees included leaders of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, and representatives of the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI).
In addition to the forum deliberations, a visit was arranged, facilitated by the Claims Conference, to a nursing home for the elderly, where the foreign diplomats met with Holocaust survivors. They also visited the Israel Museum and heard about the restitution of works of art in Israel. At the Yad Vashem archive, they heard about possibilities for cooperation with Yad Vashem regarding restitution.
The conference provided an important opportunity for advancing the rights of the half a million Holocaust survivors living throughout the world, almost half of them in Israel. In many countries in Europe, there are still no laws concerning restitution or compensation for Holocaust-era looted property. In the countries where such laws exist, the process is slow, limited and often unfair. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel has called on the European Union to appoint a special envoy to coordinate all EU activities related to restitution and compensation.
In the forum’s final declaration, the participants announced their commitment to promoting the legacy of the Holocaust and the restitution of looted property, or compensation for it, in EU institutions. They also declared their intention to convene an international conference on restorative justice and Holocaust-era asset restitution in Brussels, the EU capital; to encourage the appointment of special envoys for Holocaust-related issues and restitution from the 47 states that endorsed the Terezin Declaration (2009 Prague conference); and to encourage and assist states to fulfil their commitments, among them meeting the urgent social welfare needs of Holocaust survivors.
In the declaration, the participants noted positive developments on the restitution of property in Serbia, Romania and Latvia, and commended as a first step the appointment of a European Commission Special Coordinator for Combating Antisemitism. They also noted the importance of addressing relevant concerns in the European Commission, the European Parliament and in national parliaments, as well as the importance of cooperation between the EU and the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI).
In an open letter sent to the participants after the forum’s conclusion, Amb. Reuven Merhav, former Director General of the MFA and currently Vice-President of the Claims Conference and a member of the Honorary Board of ESLI, urges the Europeans not to miss:
“…the last chance to achieve some measure of justice for the victims of the Holocaust, which took place in Europe, liquidating over 75% of its Jewish population in no time, after over 1000 years of active Jewish participation – from Maimonides to Einstein – in building European civilization as a beacon to nations.
“It is Europe, represented by its institutions, rules, regimes and system of justice, that must take the lead in cleaning the table and solving all remaining problems. This cannot done by proxies elsewhere, with all respect to their ground-breaking work – it must be done in and from Brussels – of the Europeans, by Europeans, for Europeans – and with all Europeans.
“It is, therefore, incumbent on all of us to work to that end, by setting the goals, creating the proper political, administrative and operational mechanism needed for that purpose.
“Let us not forget – time is running out. It is our moral and practical responsibility to make it happen.”