(JTA) — When a 2009 Holocaust-era assets conference concluded with a landmark statement of principles on Holocaust restitution, many restitution advocates had high hopes that a corner had been turned in the struggle for survivor justice.
The Terezin Declaration, which had the support of 46 countries participating in the conference in the Czech Republic, outlined a set of goals for property restitution. It recognized the advancing age of Holocaust survivors and the imperative of delivering them aid and justice in their final years.
“Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the June 2009 declaration stated.
But five years on, progress on securing restitution has been painstakingly slow.
The lingering Euro Zone crisis has hampered efforts to get Eastern European countries to pass restitution legislation.
The Terezin Declaration, while verbally bold, did not require any concrete commitments — or even the signatures of those countries present. Poland, the only European country occupied by the Nazis that has not enacted substantial private property restitution, did not even bother to show up for a follow-up conference in 2012.
In fact, since 2009, Lithuania has been the only country to enact substantial restitution legislation: a $53 million package announced in 2011, to be paid out over 10 years for communal property seized during the Holocaust.
“Most countries resist having to engage in restitution or compensation for lost property,” said Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust restitution issues.
The week before Passover, Davidson was in Zagreb with Jewish restitution leaders negotiating with Croatian government officials. Croatia is one of the few countries that negotiators say is holding serious restitution talks and where a deal is conceivable in the foreseeable future.
“They want to do it, they know they should do it, but their economy is in disastrous shape and by their reckoning it would cost them 1 billion euros to compensate for property that was nationalized by the communist regime in Yugoslavia after the war,” Davidson said.