Senate committee advances restitution bill for Holocaust survivors


(JTA) — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill that will help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets.

On Tuesday, the committee unanimously passed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today, or JUST Act.

The legislation requires the State Department to report on the progress of certain European countries toward the return of or restitution for wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets, including property, art and other movable property. It also requires a report specifically on progress on the resolution of claims for U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors and family members.

The JUST Act is designed to build on the international Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues of 2009, which affirms that the protection of property rights is an essential component of a democratic society based on the rule of law and recognizes the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust-era between 1933 and 1945.

Several nations that endorsed the Terezin Declaration, including many NATO allies, have not fully addressed the restitution of Jewish communal, private and heirless property, the sponsors of the bill — Sens. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida — said in a statement.

“Addressing the claims of Holocaust survivors is a pressing issue,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “Despite international declarations on the need to resolve claims relating to Nazi-expropriated property, most formerly Jewish-owned properties confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators have not been returned, nor has compensation been provided to the rightful owners or their heirs.

“Justice for those who endured unprecedented hardships during the Holocaust is a moral necessity — ensuring that victims are given what is rightfully theirs should be a U.S. foreign policy priority.”

The World Jewish Restitution Organization called on the Senate to quickly pass the bill to help ensure that it is signed into law by the end of the calendar year.

“Through this legislation, the United States will help survivors achieve a small measure of justice for the wrongful seizure of their property during the Holocaust,” said Gideon Taylor, its chair of operations. “Now is the time – while the remaining survivors are alive – for countries to provide restitution.”

A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February by Reps. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J.

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