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Serbia Passes Precedent-Settting Holocaust Restitution Law

In a move that Holocaust restitution experts called precedent setting, Serbia’s parliament passed a law offering compensation for Jewish property seized during and after the Holocaust without heirs.

The law passed Friday by the Narodna skupstina, or the National Assembly, Serbia’s parliament, offers annual payments of a little over $1 million for the next 25 years to the country’s Jewish communities for property which was confiscated from its Jewish owners during and after the Holocaust, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, said in a statement.

While many countries in Eastern Europe allow claims by individual heirs, none so far have enacted laws that offer restitution for Jewish property without heirs, according to WJRO.

“This is a step toward justice and the recognition of history,” WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor said in a statement issued Friday. “We look to other countries to follow Serbia’s lead and return heirless Jewish property so that it can help Holocaust survivors in need, commemorate those who died and strengthen Jewish life in these communities where so much was destroyed.”

In 2009, 46 countries signed a document recognizing the principle of offering compensation for property without heirs, which in countries such as Poland is estimated in the billions. “But none have taken such action, until last week,” WJRO’s acting director, *Nachliel Dison, told JTA. He noted that Hungary did offer limited compensation for heirless property, but not through legislation.

The Serbian law, he said, “hopefully will make it incumbent on other countries to follow Serbia’s lead.” Serbia created a procedure for Holocaust restitution of heirs relatively late, in 2011.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior restitution official from Israel said that the law, passed with support from Serbia’s government, “is also connected to Serbia’s desire to enter the European Union, where it needs to tick the ‘restitution’ box.”

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