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America's Role in Addressing Outstanding Holocaust Issues

J. Christian Kennedy, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues
Testimony Before House Foreign Affairs Committee European Subcommittee
Washington, DC
October 3, 2007

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Country-by-country summary of Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe

As delivered

MR. KENNEDY: Chairman Wexler, Ranking Member Gallegly, Representative Smith, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the privilege of appearing before you today at this very important hearing.

As Holocaust survivors age, we have less and less time to do what we can help them receive a measure of justice in their lifetime. The survivor community is the principal constituency and major concern of my office. We focus on the restitution of property or when that is not possible, a measure of compensation for lost property. Through our work on Holocaust education and remembrance, we hope that survivors and victims families feel that they have received a measure of compassion, too.

All of us who work on these issues recognize from the outset that nothing we can do will really compensate the survivors and victims for the horrific and unfathomable evil that befell them in the Holocaust. I'd like to use the title of former Deputy Secretary Stuart Eizenstat's book, to say that we recognize we are working for imperfect justice.

Let me turn to property restitution and compensation.

Since the mid-'90s, successive Administrations have made it their policy to seek property restitution and compensation for Holocaust survivors and victims' heirs. In Western Europe bilateral executive agreements with the U.S. and several countries' judicial actions have delivered a measure of justice. We have made some progress on the issues, but much remains to be done.

In the new European democracies, we have urged countries to pass comprehensive laws that do not discriminate among claimants by citizenship or ethnicity. In the year since I have been in my position, I have taken up this issue in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Though many new democracies have passed laws, implementation remains something we have to urge our counterparts to undertake. There are, moreover, five countries that either have not passed laws or not put into place real implementation measures. They are Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Poland has not passed a compensation law for privately owned land and buildings. I've been there half a dozen times, especially to consult with members of the Polish parliament. There was some modest progress being made; unfortunately, elections this month will cause further delays. I have received undertakings, however, from the biggest parties that they will take up a draft bill in the new parliament.

Lithuania has delayed a solution to Jewish communal properties for several years though the government is again considering legislation.

Romania has developed legislation for a compensation fund, but has not yet fully implemented it. I have met with officials there to urge action.

Our Embassy in Zagreb and I have been told by Croatia's political parties that they will take up a law following next month's elections.

Slovenia and the World Jewish Restitution Organization agreed to guide restitution with property inventories. There have been delays, but the WJRO feels progress is now possible.

From the mid-'90s through 2001, we reached agreements with various Western European countries and companies to address theft of assets and slave labor. Let me review them briefly.

The German Foundation paid $6 billion to 1.6 million victims of slave and forced labor. Another $500 million was paid to cover other losses including insurance. I would also note that over time German governments have paid out through various programs nearly $100 billion at today's values.

The Austrian funds comprehend payments of about 100 -- $1 billion, I'm sorry --some of these payments are still underway.

The U.S. had an oversight role in the compensation for French bank accounts looted by the Vichy government. The $30 million in payments were part of a more extensive French government program.

The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) has made $300 million in payments to the beneficiaries of insurance policies, many of whom were survivors but many were also heirs. In addition, ICHEIC has allocated $200 million mainly for social welfare projects benefiting needy victims. For the most part these projects are being administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany or the Claims Conference.

I would like to note also the Swiss bank agreement for $1.25 billion. The negotiations, facilitated by the State Department, led to an agreement under the supervision of a federal district court here in the United States.

Drawing on nearly a decade of experience, we believe that workable agreements and continuing dialog best serve survivors' interests as we seek to help them get a measure of justice. These mechanisms spare them the uncertainties and costs of litigation. Just two weeks ago, Germany announced it would pay out 100 million euros to ghetto laborers. Six thousand people were recently added to the German pension scheme for survivors. The Claims Conference and my office have worked together on these issues.

When I appeared last before your subcommittee on March 28, the focus was getting greater access to the Holocaust records at the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen. I am pleased to report considerable progress because 9 countries of the 11 on the commission have fully approved the greater access rules. The French Senate did so last week, the lower chamber there is scheduled to take action today for a full vote next week. Greece, however, has yet to start its approval process, and I will visit the Greek parliament in two weeks to urge prompt action. The USHMM has received the first electronic data transfer from the International Tracing Service, a huge step, the first time data has been sent here.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today, and I'll be happy to answer questions.

Released on October 3, 2007

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