From JTA: Q&A w/new exec dir. of Claim Conference Greg Schneider + the response

Schneider: Restitution money is running out, and Europe needs to step up
By Uriel Heilman

haaretz: Ministers irate over treasury threat to Holocaust survivors

By Orly Vilnai

Past and present ministers as well as non-profit organizations on Monday fiercely criticized letters the Finance Ministry has been sending Holocaust survivors, threatening to withhold benefits unless they agree to allow the ministry to withdraw funds from their bank accounts that it believes they received erroneously.

“Unreasonable and disproportionate,” wrote Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. The letters “lead to the conclusion that unfortunately there are employees in your office seeking to block or impede Holocaust survivors on their exhausting journey to be granted what they deserve.”

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haaretz: Treasury reaching hand into Holocaust survivors' accounts

By Orly Vilnai, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Jewish world, Holocaust

The Finance Ministry has sent letters to thousands of Holocaust survivors in recent weeks, threatening to cut off their survivor benefits if they do not sign and return a form enclosed with the letter. The form gives the treasury irrevocable power of attorney to withdraw any funds from the survivors’ bank accounts which the Finance Ministry payments department believes were paid to the survivors in error.

The Finance Ministry form requires approval from the survivor’s bank and states that failure to return the form by August 31 will result in the suspension of benefit payments. Some of the survivors who received this form were reportedly very distressed by the request. Some agreed to speak only if their names were not published, out of concern for repercussions from the treasury. “My body is already weak,” said one survivor ill with cancer, “but my head still works a little, and my hand refuses to sign.”

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HAARETZ: Holocaust survivors: Israel's Leumi bank crueler than EU banks

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz Correspondent

Bank Leumi’s refusal to return money that belonged to Jews murdered in the Holocaust seriously harms efforts to retrieve Jewish property from European banks, leaders of restitution organizations said Thursday at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. Bank Leumi denies these claims.

About 100 Holocaust survivors demonstrated outside the bank’s head office, demanding that it return NIS 300 million they say belongs to Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The bank’s management – which held an annual meeting in the building – did not send a representative to speak to the elderly men and women.

Mordechai Hareli, chairman of the organization representing Jewish forced laborers, said: “We’re fighting against a Jewish institution which surpasses European banks in its level of hearltessness.” Avraham Roet, founder of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets, added: “The refusal to meet us is almost as infuriating as the appropriation of funds.”

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WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS AND WJRO SAY LITHUANIA DOESN'T MEET RESTITUTION STANDARDS

Following is a joint statement by Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and Simon Alperovitch, president of the Jewish Community of Lithuania:

Complete Report by Survivor Yehuda Evron on the Prague Conference

This report was written by Yehuda Evron, who attended the Conference and contains transcripts of speeches by Stuart Eizenstat, who headed the US Delegation. It also contains Evron’s testimony, and the Terezin Declaration.

A+ must be given to the U.S. State Department delegation headed by Stu Eizenstat. They worked day and night, not only to prepare the declaration, but also to negotiate with the representatives from each country to ensure that they would sign it.

For us the Survivors, it is great to know that we have at the State Department such
dedicated friends and supporters of our cause.

The Terezin Declaration is a very important document not only because it was signed
by 46 countries, but also because there will be follow-up and reports on the progress
made by each country in its implementation of the recommendations in this document.

The Terezin Declaration gives new hope to the survivor community that finally they will
be able to recover, at least partially, their assets in these countries.

There were panels for each subject; Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property, Works of Arts Assets and of course, Communal and Private Property Assets.

At the Communal and Private Property Assets panel, Survivors or heirs from every Eastern Europe country presented a report on the status of the restitution efforts in each of their countries.

Unfortunately only 3 countries, Bulgaria, Latvia and the Czech Republic have legislated
and returned (or compensated) communal and private properties to their owners.

Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus are the only countries that have no restitution law.

I listened to the speech given by Mr. Bartoszewski, the head of the Polish delegation. Unfortunately, there was nothing new in his speech. The same story that we have heard
for the last 20 years; the Polish Government is working on a restitution law, they have assigned a committee for this issue, etc., etc.

We will have to continue our efforts here in the USA and especially in Western Europe, for a just restitution from Poland, and at the same time, coordinate our activities with the owners’ organizations in Poland.

Yehuda Evron

Enclosures:
Copy of Spoken Remarks: Opening Plenary Session – Stuart Eizenstat
Copy of Testimony of Jehuda Evron
Copy of Closing Remarks from Stuart Eizenstat
Copy of Terezin Declaration

SPOKEN REMARKS
AMBASSADOR STUART E. EIZENSTAT
PRAGUE HOLOCAUST ERA ASSETS CONFERENCE
OPENING PLENARY SESSION
PRAGUE, JUNE 28, 2009

INTRODUCTION
I want to thank the Czech Government for hosting this historic conference, and for the leadership, vision and determination they have put into making it a success-especially Alexandr Vondra; Ambassador Milos Pojar, and Denisa Haubertova.

I am speaking at the Czech Government’s personal invitation, not as head of the US delegation.
We should not see Prague as a time to close the door on the Holocaust and assign it to history, but rather as the occasion for a new burst of energy, dedication and determination to honor the memory of 6 million Jewish victims and millions of others, including Romani, who died at the hands of the Nazi regime, and to provide immediate assistance and a greater degree of justice to Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution, many of whom live in abject poverty. The Prague Conference is an historic opportunity to refocus our attention and regain a sense of urgency. We seek to bring a greater degree of justice, as imperfect as it may be, to those victims who remain. We seek to continue to help survivors and their families reconnect to what was stolen from them. This effort has always been to help Jewish and non-Jewish victims.

The Holocaust was not only the greatest genocide in world history but also the greatest theft in history of a people’s entire possessions and cultural and religious heritage – a theft of Jewish movable and immovable property, financial assets, insurance benefits, art, Judaica, and Jewish cultural property. In Elie Wiesel’s haunting words at the opening session Friday, the Nazis and their collaborators “stole riches from the rich and poverty from the poor” – who were far more numerous. We cannot bring back the dead from the ovens, extermination camps, and mass graves, but what we can do is to recommit ourselves to remember them, to do justice to their heirs and survivors, to educate generations thereafter, about the Holocaust. We must not let the conference be merely an event in which we try to show the world that we care with sterling words but without concrete deeds.

There was a 50 year period after the immediate post-war efforts, during which the need to do justice for Holocaust survivors was largely forgotten, except for the major German payments. A number of factors converged to bring the need for justice to victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution back on the world’s agenda and the consciousness of governments and people around the globe.
–The dimensions of the Holocaust became better understood with the opening of World War II-era archives to the public.
–The end of the Cold War, the collapse of Communism, and post-War anniversaries focused attention on the unfinished matters of World War II, including the inadequacy of post-War restitution.
— As survivors aged, they began to tell their stories, which had been too painful to share with even their families, before it was too late, and to try to reconnect to what had been stolen from them, following decades when they simply tried to make a new life for themselves and their families.
–The Clinton Administration took a leadership role, first for the return of communal property – Jewish and non-Jewish – to the remerging religious communities following the collapse of Communism; then to mediate a series of lawsuits.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Much has been accomplished in the past 15 years.
The Re-education Process
To address the unresolved issues of compensation, restitution, and remembrance since World War II, several countries took the lead in convoking conferences: the 1997 London Conference on Nazi-Looted Gold, the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, the January 2000 Stockholm Conference on Holocaust Education, and the October 2000 Vilnius Conference on Cultural Property.
– A series of lawsuits on behalf of victims were brought in U.S. courts against the Swiss, German, Austrian, and French corporations implicated in the Holocaust, for slave and forced labor, the payment of insurance policies, and for recovery of hidden bank accounts. The U.S. Government mediation led to agreements that provided $8 billion dollars in new compensation, a substantial portion of which went to non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
-The 1998 Swiss Bank investigation discovered tens of thousands of hidden bank accounts. This led to a settlement of $1.25 billion, over 1 billion of which has been disbursed to over 440,000 Holocaust survivors and their families.
– The establishment in 1998 of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), which included nearly all insurance companies in Europe that had issued a significant number of insurance policies to beneficiaries of Holocaust victims. ICHEIC paid some 48,000 claimants $306 million using relaxed standards of evidence, and another $169 million for humanitarian programs for the benefit of survivors worldwide.
– The German Foundation agreement of July 2000 led to payments of more than 5.1 Billion Euro to over 1.6 million victims of Nazi persecution, the vast majority of whom were non-Jewish forced laborers in Poland, Ukraine, Russia other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, the Foundation covered insurance claims and claims for personal property losses. And all of the funds were paid out by 2007.
-The U.S. agreements with Austria of 2000 and 2001 led to payments programs of nearly $1 billion, almost all of which have been disbursed, including funds to 132,000 forced and slave laborers, the majority non-Jewish. A fund of over $200 million for individuals, whose property was confiscated by the Nazi government, is now being disbursed.
-The 2001 agreement between the United States and France that led to some 38 million Euro in payments. France has also distributed 410 million Euro to 25,000 victims of property spoliations.
It is particularly noteworthy that Germany and Austria have established foundations for the future as part of these agreements for projects of education and tolerance, as a way of honoring Holocaust victims and other victims of Nazi persecution and bringing lessons learned from the Holocaust to our problems today.
In addition, France, the Netherlands and Belgium undertook to resolve Holocaust era claims by creating national commissions.

Art
Like the Holocaust itself, the efficiency, brutality, and scale of Nazi art theft was unprecedented in history. Experts have estimated that as many as 600,000 paintings were stolen, of which more than 100,000 are still missing. When furniture, china, rare books, coins, and items of the decorative arts are included, the numbers swell into the millions.

At the Washington Conference, we obtained a consensus from 44 countries on a voluntary set of Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which profoundly changed the world of art. The guidelines have important moral authority. They called on museums, galleries, and auction houses to cooperate in tracing looted art through stringent research into the provenance of their collections. Leeway was to be given in accepting claims. An international effort was to be made to publish information about provenance research. A system of alternative dispute resolution was to be considered to prevent art claims from turning into protracted legal battles.
Since none of these principles was legally binding, one may legitimately ask whether anything has really changed. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Major auction houses conduct thorough research on artworks that they bring to market, museums examine the provenance of any prospective purchases carefully; and private collectors consider the prior history of paintings they have under consideration. Some 164 contributing U.S. art museums have developed a creative web “search engine,” with over 27,000 works posted, which allows potential owners of Nazi-looted art to input their claim into one place, and have it considered by all the museums linked to the search engine. And hundreds of artworks have been returned to their rightful owners.

Holocaust Education
The political will generated at the Washington Conference revived interest and activity in Holocaust issues. There is no greater success story than the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education and Research. The 27-nation Task Force has focused its strengths in teacher training in Central and Eastern Europe. On the diplomatic front, in 2006, the Task Force issued a strong statement, carried widely in the European and international media, condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE
With all that has been accomplished, some may wonder why, nearly 65 years later, we are still addressing restitution and compensation issues. It is because our work to rectify the wrongs of the Holocaust remains highly incomplete, and because many civilian victims of Nazi barbarism continue to live in terrible and unacceptable circumstances today.

For all that has been accomplished, some areas, like private and communal property restitution and compensation, have barely scratched the surface in Central and Eastern Europe; social needs for survivors worldwide are greater than ever; and art restitution and recovery results are disappointing in many countries. Meeting these and other challenges must be the work of the Prague Conference.
Social Needs
In the US, Central Europe, and Israel, tens of thousands of elderly survivors today live at or near the poverty level. Our first priority must be to deal with the social needs of survivors, many of whom live in poverty, without adequate access to medical and home care and to medicines, including in my country, the United States of America. It is unacceptable that those who have suffered so grievously during their lives should continue to suffer in their declining years. This is a worldwide problem. It requires a worldwide response.

Governments should recognize the special needs of Holocaust survivors and other Nazi victims, who may be more vulnerable than the rest of the elderly population, and consider a variety of creative mechanisms to provide assistance to needy survivors, including special pensions to non-residents, and the use of assets from heirless property. In almost all European countries, heirless property reverts to the state. But, in the case of heirless property owned by Holocaust victims whose entire family was killed by the Nazis, national governments should not be the ultimate beneficiaries. Funds obtained from such heirless property should be used to assist living Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution.

As in so many other areas, the Czech Republic has shown special leadership which other countries could emulate by providing an additional pension for survivors of concentration camps. Austria also offers a positive example by expanding home care to all former citizens who were persecuted by the Nazi regime and reside abroad.

France has developed a series of programs which set an example for other countries – restitution or compensation for victims of property spoliations, and a pension or lump sum for orphans of deportees.
Insurance & ICHEIC

In insurance, we need to give the victims and their heirs the confidence that everything has been done — and will be done — to track down insurance policies. ICHEIC companies should renew their commitments to continue accepting all Holocaust-related claims despite the close down of ICHEIC.

Art
While there has been some progress in the way the art market functions and some important artworks have been returned, there have also been some areas where there has been only minimal progress, or no change at all. Large gaps remain between the Washington Principles and the current reality. It is high time that all states here fulfill the promise of the Washington Principles. Several countries, led by Austria, the Netherlands, and the UK, have actually incorporated the essence of the Washington Principles into their domestic legislation. Too few people have recovered too few of their Nazi-looted art works and too many works remain in museums in Europe and around the world.

It is time for Europe to embrace the 1999 Council of Europe Resolution and the 2003 European Parliament Resolution and take concrete steps to develop and implement common principles with respect to issues of looted art, cultural and movable property.

Except for a few countries, most have not undertaken open archival access and thorough provenance research, nor have they published the results. The Terezin Declaration stresses the importance of completing this task, without which the goal of the Washington Principles will not be fulfilled. In Germany, which has undertaken such research, State Secretary Bernd Neumann said Germany has “thousands and thousands” of looted art in their museums today. Russia may have the largest amount of Nazi-looted art, but despite an excellent art restitution law, the Russian Government has done little to implement it. Some U.S. museums also need to do more provenance research.

JPOST: Our final push for justice

By GREG SCHNEIDER

When asked, the great scholar Hillel summed up the entire Torah on one foot: “V’ahavta Lere’echa Kamocha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” adding that the rest is commentary.

In assuming the professional leadership of the Claims Conference, I suggest this modern day adaptation: Every Holocaust victim deserves to live her or his remaining years in dignity, and the rest is commentary.

Currently we are faced with the intolerable situation of 26,000 Holocaust victims worldwide eating their meals in soup kitchens every day. It is painful that 64 years after the Second World War, after the liberation, the heroes of the Jewish people – so many of them – who were in camps, ghettoes, hiding, false identity, partisans, and Jews who fled from Nazi terror, are so impoverished that they can’t afford to buy their own food or, if they do, it is instead of medicine or rent.

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HAARETZ: Holocaust survivors: Israel's Leumi bank crueler than EU banks

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Jewish World, Bank Leumi

Bank Leumi’s refusal to return money that belonged to Jews murdered in the Holocaust seriously harms efforts to retrieve Jewish property from European banks, leaders of restitution organizations said Thursday at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. Bank Leumi denies these claims.

About 100 Holocaust survivors demonstrated outside the bank’s head office, demanding that it return NIS 300 million they say belongs to Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The bank’s management – which held an annual meeting in the building – did not send a representative to speak to the elderly men and women.

MORE.