What Nazis’ victims still need & deserve18 вересня 2017
by Gideon Taylor
This week continues the 72nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, an institution that came into being amidst the devastation of the Second World War and the tragedy of the Holocaust.
It was at the UN General Assembly which gathered in Paris in 1948, where world leaders adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the international community sought to prevent the horrors of the Holocaust from ever happening again.
In ringing language, the Universal Declaration said that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” and described how “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”
Article 17 of the Declaration specifically stated that “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and went on to assert that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
Yet, 70 years later, many thousands of Holocaust survivors and their families still remain “deprived of their property.”
While restitution of their property cannot address the suffering Holocaust survivors endured, it does serve as a powerful recognition of the deprivation of their property rights and a testament to countries’ efforts to acknowledge history.
The gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly, which continues this week, will be an opportunity for countries to recommit to securing the human rights of survivors of the Holocaust and their families and addressing the wrongs of the past. The World Jewish Restitution Organization will participate in a series of meetings with leaders of European countries where we will call for the return of confiscated property to Holocaust survivors and their families.
A major international study released recently showed that many countries have not yet fulfilled their obligation to return or compensate for property stolen by the Nazis more than 70 years ago. While some countries have made progress in recent years, there is much work to be done. Of the remaining 500,000 Nazi victims alive today, up to half live in poverty.
An international consensus has emerged in recent years.
In 2009, 47 countries endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration which urged “that every effort be made to rectify the consequence of wrongful property seizures . . . which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups.”
This past April, at a conference in the European Parliament on “Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance,” President of the Parliament Antonio Tajani declared that “restitution, together with remembrance and reconciliation, is a fundamental element to restore justice after the Holocaust.” Tajani went on to tell the conference, which included Holocaust victims fighting for justice: “I will support you, not only today, but every day.”
A few weeks later, at a ceremony to mark the signing of a memorandum of understanding between WJRO and the state of Israel, the President of Israel spoke movingly of the work at hand: “I call on all leaders to act now. We have a window of opportunity to show the survivors of history's darkest days, that the world has learned from the past. This is a moral duty.”
In June, 71 European Parliament members from more than 20 European Union member states and five European political groups backed a pledge to increase support for Holocaust survivors and their families seeking the return of stolen and looted World War II property.
“We, members of the European Parliament, affirm the moral responsibility of European Union member states to advance Holocaust-era property restitution,” they stated in the Declaration.
As European leaders participate in the UN General Assembly this month, it is indeed time — while the remaining Holocaust survivors are alive — to ensure that the fundamental human rights of those who suffered so much are respected.
Taylor is chair of operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization.