Restitution For The Shoah Holocaust Survivors Still Owed Up to $175 Billion

A new study reveals that Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in restitution payments, six decades after the Shoah. Meanwhile efforts to open up a key German Holocaust archive have stalled.


While no amount of money can ever make up for the whole-sale slaughter of European Jews during World War II, restitution payments from Germany and other countries go some way toward redressing the balance. However a new study reveals that as much as $175 billion (€135 billion) is still owed to survivors of the Shoah.

German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on January 3, 2007. A new study shows that up to $175bn in restitution payments is still owed to survivors.
REUTERS

German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on January 3, 2007. A new study shows that up to $175bn in restitution payments is still owed to survivors.

The study, prepared by international economist Sidney Zabludoff for the Jerusalem-based Jewish Political Studies Review and made available to Reuters Thursday, reveals that hundreds of billions of dollars have still not been paid out.

"At least $115-$175 billion (at 2005 prices) remains unreturned despite numerous clear and explicit international agreements and country promises made during World War II and immediately thereafter," the study said.

Restitution efforts have intensified in the years since the end of the Cold War, said Zabludoff, a former White House, Treasury Department and CIA official. He added that increased public pressure, motivated by new reports about the scope of Nazi looting and attempts to conceal accounts by Swiss banks, has played a role in facilitating payments.

European countries have pledged $3.4 billion in restitution payments. However only around half of that sum had been paid by 2005, the study showed.

During the entire post-war period, only about 20 percent of the assets looted from Europe's Jews was returned, Zabludoff said. The Nazis forced many Jews to sell their possessions and property, often at "far less than prevailing market values," he said, adding that the Soviets had also confiscated "large amounts of stocks and bonds" belonging to Jews from the Reichsbank in Berlin at the end of the war.

The new study has reopened the at-times virulent debate over how best to help elderly Holocaust survivors in Europe, the US and Israel, many of whom are very poor.

"Things are moving much too slowly," Menachem Rosensaft from the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors told Reuters.

There have been a number of high-profile restitution cases in Germany in recent months, as valuable paintings and property have been returned to Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their families.

Meanwhile Associated Press reported Friday that the archive of the International Tracing Service, a unique archive containing vast amounts of documents related to the Holocaust, still remains off-limits to researchers, with officials saying it could take years before its valuable contents become available for study -- exasperating researchers and Holocaust survivors.

The 11 countries administering the vast archive agreed last year to open it up for research, delighting researchers who hoped to finally gain access to the documents. The group had argued for nearly a decade over objections that opening the archive would violate the privacy of some victims, with the German government long resisting pressure from the other countries to allow access.

According to the Associated Press, who were granted access to part of the archive, the invaluable contents include a carbon copy of an original list of Jews saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler, eye-witness accounts of the genocide at Auschwitz by liberated inmates, and hundreds of pages of personal "behavior" reports written by members of the SS about concentration camp inmates. The archive is administered by the International Tracing Service (ITS), an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross located in the German town of Bad Arolsen.

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries announced last April that Germany had changed its mind and would work with the US to make the archives public. She told reporters in Washington that agreement among member states should take no more than six months. That was eight months ago, however.

The agreement was just the first step in a long legal process to revise the 1955 treaty which governs the archive. However, only Israel and the US have so far fully endorsed the amendments adopted last May by the 11 countries involved.

The other members say they are working on the necessary legislation. "We are moving very fast," Liesbeth Lijnzaad of the Foreign Ministry in the Netherlands, which now holds the committee chairmanship, told Associated Press. "If a treaty enters into force within three years of signature, that is a huge achievement. It rarely happens."

"Some delegations thought it unwise to put the national parliaments under pressure by an official deadline," commented Paul Dostert of Luxembourg's Foreign Ministry. He told Associated Press he hoped the group would ratify the agreement as early as the end of this year.

Academics and groups representing elderly survivors are frustrated by the slow pace of progress, arguing that urgent access to the material is needed to help combat Holocaust deniers, and that the long-winded legislative process needs to be speeded up.

"The survivors want open access to the material. That gives the greatest protection to them and their legacy," Paul Shapiro of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, who has lobbied for years for the archive to be opened, told Associated Press.

"They are disappearing before our eyes. How much longer does the world expect them to wait?" he said.

dgs/reuters/ap

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