Latvia passes long-awaited Holocaust restitution law
HELSINKI (AP) — Latvia’s parliament on Thursday passed a Holocaust restitution bill that includes compensation for lost Jewish property and funding to revitalize the Baltic nation’s Jewish community, which was almost completely wiped out during WWII.
After years of wrangling over the issue, the 100-seat Saeima voted 64 to 21 to approve the Latvian Jewish Community Goodwill Compensation Law during the final reading of the bill. law.
Arkady Sukharenko, president of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities, hailed “this historic step” taken by lawmakers.
“The finalization of this process demonstrates that even 77 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is never too late for justice,” he said.
Lengthy negotiations involving the World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, Latvian Jewish representatives, and government authorities began in 2005. The United States and Israel were also involved in the talks.
The bill authorizes spending 40 million euros ($45 million) over 10 years to revitalize Latvia’s 9,500-strong Jewish community, provide social and material assistance to Holocaust survivors, and fund Jewish schools, building restoration and cultural projects.
“For the (Jewish) community, we now hope to turn the page and close the book on World War II and its legacy,” Dmitry Krupnikov, head of the Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund, told The Associated Press. . “It would be great to put that behind us. We have a lot to sort out under the current conditions we have here. »
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted praise for “Latvia’s continued work to preserve Holocaust memory and promote education about this dark period in history”. The bill’s passage “shows a genuine commitment to addressing Holocaust-era property theft,” Blinken said.
WJRO President of Operations Gideon Taylor also welcomed the legislation.
“The legislation passed today is a significant recognition of the unique tragedy that has befalled Latvian Jewry and a powerful declaration of Latvia’s continued goodwill towards its Jewish community and Latvian Holocaust survivors,” said Taylor in a statement to the AP.
Latvia was occupied in June 1940 by the Soviet Red Army, which was repelled a year later by advancing troops from Nazi Germany. Moscow took over Latvia at the end of 1944 and the country remained in the Soviet Union until its independence in 1991.
Some 95,000 Jews lived in Latvia before World War II. The thriving pre-war community suffered huge losses during the Nazi occupation. By the time the Red Army reoccupied Latvia, around 90% of the country’s Jews had perished.
Members of the Jewish community were prevented from reclaiming the property they owned in June 1940, when the first Soviet occupation of Latvia began, due to near total destruction. The Soviet Union first seized these properties, which were then taken over by the Nazis, again nationalized by the Soviet Union and later became the property of the Latvian state.
After independence in 1991, Latvia introduced laws on restitution of nationalized property. But the issue has not been resolved and there is no longer anyone to claim the property of the Jews. The compensation provided for in the legislation refers to “goodwill compensation” by Latvia, a nation of 2.8 million, for unrecovered Jewish property.
“We are not going to ask for the restitution of the properties,” Krupnikov said. “It is impossible to return them 25 years after the end of privatization. Someone uses them, someone renovates them, someone improves them. Removing this property from them would be incorrect.
Legislation states that the Latvian state is not responsible for the Holocaust during the occupation of Latvia and the actions of the Soviet occupation regime.
Decades after the Holocaust, many European countries have taken steps to compensate the families of pre-war Jewish landowners, although the picture is very mixed.
Poland, home to nearly 3.5 million Jews before World War II, at the time the largest Jewish population in Europe, has passed no legislation regulating property restitution or compensating pre-owners. -war.
In many cases, properties first seized by the Nazis were later nationalized by the Polish communist regime. The vast majority of those dispossessed were not Jewish, but the issue looms large in Poland’s relations with Israel and the United States.
Poland passed a law last year that limits the rights of Holocaust survivors or their descendants to claim property. It sparked a major diplomatic crisis with Israel that has still not been resolved.
Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this story.
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