by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) The Holocaust-Era Assets Conference in Prague that began last Friday night is wrapped up today. In addition to enumerating continuing problems and reiterating positions, the Conference has produced a document (the Terezin Declaration) aimed at improving and perhaps speeding the restitution process for property seized during and after the Holocaust and never returned to direct or collective heirs. Forty-six participating countries signed the statement, if remains to be seen how many will follow through with its implementation. Like most such conference statements it is long on sentiments and short on details. The conference is certainty is good stimulus to the more than decade-long process of restitution negotiation, but it is a milepost only, not the final destination.
I subsequent blogpost I will discuss some of the expert conclusions from the conference. These provide more detail and more specific recommendations on how to proceed. Different approaches are needed in different countries, and regarding different types of contested property.
The main pronouncements of the Terezin Declaration that might impact the future restitution, protection, care and preservation of historic sites and monuments, architecture and art are the following:
1. Recognizing that Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of the Nazi regime and its collaborators suffered unprecedented physical and emotional trauma during their ordeal, the Participating States take note of the special social and medical needs of all survivors and strongly support both public and private efforts in their respective states to enable them to live in dignity with the necessary basic care that it implies.
2. Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution, the 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.
3. Recognizing the progress that has been made in research, identification, and restitution of cultural property by governmental and non-governmental institutions in some states since the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and the endorsement of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the Participating States affirm an urgent need to strengthen and sustain these efforts in order to ensure just and fair solutions regarding cultural property, including Judaica that was looted or displaced during or as a result of the Holocaust (Shoah).
4. Taking into account the essential role of national governments, the Holocaust (Shoah) survivors’ organizations, and other specialized NGOs, the Participating States call for a coherent and more effective approach by States and the international community to ensure the fullest possible, relevant archival access with due respect to national legislation. We also encourage States and the international community to establish and support research and education programs about the Holocaust (Shoah) and other Nazi crimes, ceremonies of remembrance and commemoration, and the preservation of memorials in former concentration camps, cemeteries and mass graves, as well as of other sites of memory.
Other sections deal with Holocaust memory, education and care for Holocaust survivors. An additional Joint Statement was released in which the
"European Commission and the Czech EU-Presidency declare their readiness to make every effort and create a more effective European approach by supporting goals dealing primarily with education and social welfare such as:
- Holocaust education and research,
- Social care of survivors,
- Preservation of memorials in former concentration camps and cemeteries as well as of other sites of memory,
- Provenance research of Looted Art"
Full texts of both statements can be found here:
TEREZIN DECLARATION, June 30, 2009
Joint Declaration, June 29, 2009
Expert Conclusions (from specialized sessions)
You can read the JTA report by Dinah Spritzer here.
I was quoted in a preliminary article "Jews Hope to Reclaim Their Architectural Legacy in Eastern Europe," about the conference published in the Christian Science Monitor. My point about the reluctance of countries to restitution valuable urban properties, and their eagerness to dump dilapidated and neglected properties on Jewish communities is true, though the details of this issue are lost in my "soundbite" quote. In the past ten years there have been some successes, but these are few in relation to the actual number of restitution claims submitted by Jewish communities (not to mention by individuals).
Here are links to other pre-conference news reports:
Shoah assets forum opens in Prague
Holocaust survivors, Jewish groups and experts gathered in Prague Friday to assess efforts to return property and possessions stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners or heirs...
Friday, June 26,2009
Art Restitution Conference in Prague
Representatives of the governments of 49 countries as well as museums, Jewish groups and other organizations will meet in Prague this week for a five-day conference on the restitution of artwork stolen by Nazis...
Wednesday, June 24,2009
Lithuania offers too little, too late for seized Jewish property, US Jewish leader says
Lithuania’s compensation plan for Jewish property seized by Nazi Germany in World War II and kept by the Soviet regime is too little, too late, a senior American Jewish leader said Thursday...
Friday, June 26,2009