Eight congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R- Ga.) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R_Kan.), have joined the fight to help Eastern European Jewish communities reclaim property lost during World War II.
In an April 10 letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the legislators accused 13 Eastern European countries of restricting Jewish communities’ and other claimants’ rights to their assets.
These assets, valued at billions of dollars, were plundered by the Nazis and then nationalized by the Communists.
The Eastern European countries have burdensome restitution laws with cutoff dates, and measures preventing non-residents and non-citizens from making claims.
The congressional letter warns that the way the countries respond to the claims could affect their relations with the United States.
“It should be made clear to the countries involved that their response on this matter will be seen as a test for their respect for basic human rights and the rule of law and could have practical consequences on their relations with our country,” the letter said.
The bipartisan letter also calls on the countries — Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine — to enact legislation providing for prompt restitution.
“It is a matter of both law and justice,” the letter said.
The letter comes on the heels of a personal plea from World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, who went to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers on the issue.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.); Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on International Relations; Lee Hamilton (D- Ind.), ranking member of the House Committee on International Relations; Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.); Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; and Sen. Clairborne Pell (D-R.I.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also signed onto the letter.