Holocaust thefts must be repaid

Headline stories have a nasty habit of disappearing before they’re really over. Take the greatest theft in history, the systematic looting of Europe’s Jews by a pack of thieves that included everyone from Nazi officials to Swiss banks to French museums. Most of the loot was never returned after World War II – neither to victims nor their heirs. When news of this shocking Holocaust injustice finally broke in the late 1990s, it triggered front-page headlines, TV specials and even a flurry of books, including one by this reporter.

Since then? World pressure – especially from Washington and Jewish organizations – eventually forced the supersecretive Swiss banks to offer a $1.25 billion global settlement for hidden Holocaust victims’ deposits. International insurance companies agreed to pay claims they’d once refused to honor. Former slave laborers – Jews and non-Jews – began receiving long overdue compensation. And some museums finally responded to claims they were hoarding stolen paintings – just last week Dutch officials agreed to return over 200 old masters to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, an Amsterdam Jewish collector whose art was seized by the Nazis, then recovered by the Dutch government after the war.