U.S. Helsinki group presses Lithuania on property

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A U.S. congressional delegation pressed the Lithuanian government to address the issue of restitution for property looted from Nazi and Communist eras.

The 13-lawmaker Helsinki Commission delegation, led by co-chairmen Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hasting (D-Fla.), is attending the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, held this year in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

National Helsinki commissions, affiliated with the OSCE, monitor human rights compliance and are comprised of lawmakers.

The commission pressed the issue Wednesday and Thursday in meetings with Lithuanian leaders. Lithuania is one of the last countries not to have enacted property restitution laws or returned contested property to the families of victims, but is only one of several European nations appearing reluctant to resolve restitution issues.

Lithuania offered to pay only one-third of the estimated $46 million worth of looted goods over a 10-year period beginning in 2011, a figure found unacceptable by Lithuania’s Jews and their supporters.

“We appreciate the fact Lithuania returned some synagogues to the community years ago, but more needs to be done," Cardin said. "Current proposals by the government are a fraction of the value of the communal properties once owned by Lithuania’s Jewish community."

The delegation also raised the issue of anti-Semitism in some of the media coverage of the issue.

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