Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) has joined the effort to get Eastern European countries to return or compensate for Jewish property confiscated during World War II.
The move by the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee comes after Stuart Eizenstat, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union in Brussels, recently met with Hungarian officials in connection with the Jewish property issue.
As a result of his Budapest talks, Hungary is likely to become the first Eastern European country to make a broad agreement on the Jewish property question, according to a world Jewish Congress official.
In an interview here, Eizenstat said he was satisfied with the steps Hungary has taken to address the issue.
Helms said countries in the region must deal with the issue if they are to prove themselves democracies.
“If these state fail to address this fundamental injustice, the United States would have to question their credentials as nascent democracies,” Helms wrote in a letter to WJC President Edgar Bronfman.
Bronfman has been leading a campaign to get Eastern European governments to address the question of compensation or restitution for millions of dollars of Jewish property seized by the Nazis during the war and then nationalized by the Communist regimes.
In a May 18 letter to Bronfman, President Clinton said: “People everywhere are grateful for the progress you have made to restore property unfairly confiscated during and after World War II.”
Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said the subject “has support across the political spectrum” in the United States.
In his letter, Helms said, “The Jews of Europe suffered for so long, and those who lost property as a result of Nazi and Communist tyranny have an undeniable right to restitution.
“The WJRO (World Jewish Restitution Organization) has taken the lead by focusing international attention on this problem, but the United States government also has a role to play.”
Helms’ letter follows an earlier appeal by member of Congress to Secretary of State Warren Christopher to pursue the issue with Eastern European nations.