WASHINGTON (JTA) — Leading U.S. lawmakers called on formerly communist European nations to advance Holocaust-era property reclamation processes.
The call comes a year after the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, which declared 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 (victims of the Holocaust), the vast majority of whom died heirless."
The Helsinki Commission, the congressional branch of a multinational grouping of parliamentary human rights groups, heard testimony Tuesday from Stuart Eizenstat, the special adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on Holocaust issues.
"Implementation remains very uneven," Eizenstat said of the post-communist nations. Western European nations had for the most part resolved such issues by the time the Iron Curtain collapsed.
"Corruption, processing delays, difficulty in obtaining basic documentation and inconsistent information about the application process have marred property restitution in too many countries," he said. "In some instances, basic legislation is still lacking. No country has been exemplary in this field, and many have been quite the opposite."
Eizenstat singled out Poland, Romania and Lithuania as nations "where we are awaiting long overdue improvements."
Commission members pressed the faltering nations to accelerate the claims process.
"Every major political party in Poland has supported draft legislation on property compensation, and I hope that the prime minister will be able to carry through on his stated commitment to see a general property law adopted," said commission chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “In Lithuania, the 1995 property law is needlessly restrictive. I hope the government will fulfill its promises to revisit that law and ensure that communal properties, including schools and places of worship, are returned to their proper owners. Making amends for such crimes and atrocities cannot and should not drag out for yet another generation."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Cardin’s co-chairman, called on the nations to retreat from applying standard inheritance laws on such exceptional cases.
“There is something terribly perverse about applying the normal rules of inheritance to the extraordinary and tragic circumstances created by the Holocaust," he said. "It is just wrong that a government can prevent a man from retrieving his own uncle’s artwork because a law says that uncle has no direct heirs. When whole families were murdered in the Holocaust, I would think such an exception should be made a part of the law.”