As survivors dwindle, US still pursues Holocaust restitution


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The number of survivors may be dwindling, but the State Department’s envoy on Holocaust issues says the issue of restitution still lingers.

Thomas Yazdgerdi, the special envoy for Holocaust issues, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday that he is preparing a report to Congress due in November that assesses what countries in Europe have done to complete their obligation to restore properties stolen during the Holocaust.

The report was mandated by a 2018 law, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act passed unanimously in both chambers of Congress.

Restitution can be made to communities in the absence of survivors, Yazdgerdi said.

“What do you do with property where the whole family, a Jewish family, was murdered in the Holocaust?” he asked.

“The best practice is to set up a foundation, use the proceeds of that property to help Holocaust survivors that are living in that country and use some of that money to promote and revitalize Jewish life in that country.”

The same is true of synagogues and other communal properties that were stolen and remain unrestituted, he said.

The role of the United States in this issue is to encourage authorities to work with the Jewish organizations that handle restitution, Yazdgerdi said.

“The United States doesn’t get directly involved in these negotiations, it encourages governments to work with the local communities, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, with the umbrella organizations to come to some sort of resolution of these matters,” he said.

Yazdgerdi was speaking Wednesday at the State Department’s annual Holocaust remembrance event, this year commemorating the Minsk Ghetto. The event was co-hosted by the Belarus Embassy and featured an address by Oleg Kravchenko, that nation’s deputy foreign minister.

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