PRAGUE (JTA) — A Lithuanian plan to sell a building that once housed the Vilna Ghetto Jewish library was halted by the U.S. Embassy, JTA has learned.
The library building, which the World Jewish Restitution Organization and Lithuanian Jewish community identify as Jewish community property, housed 450,000 books of Jewish literature in Vilnius under the Nazi occupation between1941 and 1943.
Herbert Block, an executive vice president with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and a top official with the restitution group, said the embassy in the Lithuanian capital had informed him by e-mail that the Foreign Ministry had acceded to the embassy’s request to cancel the sale, which was to have taken place April 8.
Lithuania is among the few countries in Europe that has yet to come up with a restitution or compensation plan for Jewish communal property.
”For eight years the Lithuanian government has been promising to come up with a plan, but so far nothing has come of it,” Block told JTA Monday.
The library is on a list of 438 buildings claimed as Jewish property that were taken over by the Communist government of Lithuania after World War II. The U.S. Embassy in Vilnius argued that the Lithuanian government should not be selling disputed properties.
In fact, the sale was not announced to any Jewish authorities but was uncovered by a local non-Jewish American activist in Vilnius, Wyan Brent, who alerted Jewish groups in the United States.
The restitution organization and the Lithuanian Jewish community recently rejected a $41 million compensation package for property, saying the sum, and how it was to be paid out over 10 years only if it was feasible for the government, was insufficient.
With numerous delays by previous governments and now the current government, the restitution process remains stalled, said Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
Baker also was informed by the embassy of the library sale cancellation.
”It seems it was only blocked by a last-minute intercession,” he said.