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The 2009 declaration was affirmed at the conclusion of Prague’s Holocaust Era Assets Conference — the fifth in a series of meetings held since 1995 to discuss Holocaust issues. The Terezin Declaration was the first formal document to make the social welfare of Holocaust survivors a priority.
ESLI is funded primarily by the Czech government, which has, until this year, contributed about $400,000 annually. Additional assistance has come from the United States, which pledged $750,000 over ESLI’s first five years, and from Israel, which has committed $90,000. Douglas Davidson, the special envoy of the United States for Holocaust issues and an ESLI board member, declined to speak on the record.
ESLI has several advisory bodies and boards. They are populated with representatives of various governments and of Czech Jewish organizations as well as specialists from NGOs such as EVZ, a German Holocaust foundation, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The Claims Conference estimates that there are about 500,000 Nazi victims alive today, worldwide, with criteria for defining who among them are needy varying from country to country. “Whether they are ‘needy’ is complicated because it’s largely based on geography,” said Amy Wexler, a Claims Conference spokeswoman. “Nazi victims in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union — over 80,000 — are the most needy.” Wexler added that in North America, a quarter of Nazi victims — about 34,000 people — are considered needy.
The declaration, in its opening line, emphasized the looming social welfare crisis this population faces. Noting the “advanced age” now afflicting Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution, the document stressed the imperative “to respect their personal dignity and to deal with their social welfare needs, as an issue of utmost urgency.”
But the declaration was not legally binding. And ESLI itself was given few resources to implement its intentions. The institute’s defenders cite these limitations while pointing out progress that the institute has made in some areas, particularly in property restitution.
But ESLI has had significant struggles. It has gone through two directors in three years; a search for a third director is just getting under way. And its main sponsor, the Czech government, has reduced its annual allocation by 20% this year,.
Jiri Cistecky, a senior official at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the reduction was part of widespread government spending cuts.