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The office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (SEHI), established in 1999, develops and implements U.S. policy to return Holocaust-era assets to their rightful owners, secure compensation for Nazi-era wrongs, and ensure that the Holocaust is remembered and commemorated appropriately. Senior U.S. Foreign Service officer Ellen Germain assumed her duties as the Special Envoy on August 23, 2021.

people seated in a row at conference table with microphones
Ellen Germain, the Department’s Envoy for Holocaust Issues, during the 2022 IHRA Plenary meetings in Stockholm, Sweden

The Special Envoy’s office supports the U.S. government’s interest in rule of law, democracy, pluralism, and human rights. It works to provide a measure of justice to Holocaust victims and their families and supports efforts to ensure that future generations will remember and commemorate the Holocaust in a historically accurate manner.

In International Holocaust Remembrance Day remarks delivered on his first full day in office in 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the Biden Administration’s commitment to making Holocaust issues a U.S. foreign policy priority, emphasizing that “it’s so important that we speak the truth about the past, to protect the facts when others try to distort or trivialize Holocaust crimes, and to seek justice for the survivors and their families.”

Seeking to bring closure to Holocaust-era issues left outstanding since the end of World War II, SEHI coordinates with partner governments, NGOs, Holocaust survivors, and other stakeholders in advocating for property restitution legislation; facilitates and participates in negotiations for compensation agreements; and provides support for the implementation of Holocaust-era claims agreements.

Class action lawsuits in the United States in the 1990s set the stage for the negotiation of a settlement agreement with Swiss banks, as well as other U.S. government executive agreements with Germany, France, and Austria that dealt with claims arising from unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies, the use of forced and slave labor, the illegal seizure of private and communal/religious property, and other issues. The U.S. Special Envoy leads advocacy on these issues and serves on the boards of several institutions and international organizations dedicated to Holocaust-era restitution and remembrance.

In addition, the Special Envoy:

A woman talking to a man in a formal setting
SEHI Ellen Germain meets Stanisław Zalewski, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Gusen death camps, after his powerful speech to the Polish parliament in which he emphasized: “We live for as long as those who remember us.”

• Urges European countries to pass legislation or otherwise enable the return of confiscated communal, private, and heirless property to rightful owners or provide fair compensation, in accordance with their endorsement of the  2009 Terezin Declaration.  In 2020, the State Department released a report to Congress pursuant to the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017, which was adopted with broad, bipartisan support and signed into law in May 2018. The JUST Act Report highlights the important actions taken by 46 countries to provide restitution of or compensation for property confiscated during the Holocaust era or subsequently nationalized during the Communist era, consistent with commitments those countries undertook when they endorsed the Terezin Declaration. The report also describes the vital work that these countries and the United States are doing to commemorate the Holocaust, open archives, and promote Holocaust education to ensure such atrocities never happen again.

A group of people posing together
Members of the SEHI office and German counterparts meet in the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues, a bilateral effort to combat Holocaust distortion, improve Holocaust education, and ensure policymakers understand these issues and their responsibility to act.

• Engages multilaterally on Holocaust issues.  The Special Envoy leads the U.S. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the 35-member inter-governmental organization founded in 2000 to advance accurate Holocaust education, research, and remembrance worldwide.

• Serves as the lead U.S. government representative on the 11-nation International Commission of the Arolsen Archives International Center on Nazi Persecution. Established in 1943 by the World War II Allies as the International Tracing Service, the name was changed to the Arolsen Archives in 2019 and today it remains the world’s most comprehensive archives on the Holocaust and all victims and survivors of Nazi persecution. Since May 2019, the Archives has uploaded millions of documents on some 17.5 million people and made them available online to the public and to bolster traditional research methods.

• Encourages the restitution of Nazi-looted art and cultural property to rightful owners, following the  Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the 2018 U.S. Germany Joint Declaration SEHI also serves as the lead U.S. interlocutor with the German Lost Art Foundation (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, or DZK) and Germany’s Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future (Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft, or EVZ), which supports projects and educational initiatives related to the critical examination of history, human rights, and the victims of Nazi persecution.

A man holding a book
U.S. Foreign Service Officer Mark Mishkin, a descendent of Holocaust survivors, was among Department employees cited by the Secretary and featured in “Holocaust Survivors: Their Legacy Compels Us to Serve” on social media

• Oversees the Department of State’s annual observances of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) and the U.S. Days of Remembrance (in April-May) to honor the lives and memory of the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution including Roma communities, LGBTQI+ individuals, Slavs, and religious and political prisoners. These commemorations are often done in partnership with other federal agencies, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the international diplomatic community in Washington, DC. In addition, the Office of the Special Envoy provides guidance and resources to U.S. embassies and consulates abroad on commemoration activities and is an active participant in the annual Inter-Agency Holocaust Days of Remembrance commemoration for federal workers.

• Works closely with the U.S. Department of State’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in advancing U.S. efforts to combat anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial and distortion.

• Serves as an ex-officio member of the Holocaust Memorial Council, which is the board of trustees of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

• Initiates diverse public outreach on Holocaust Issues, oversees a dynamic presence on social media, and curates current and legacy news, remarks by the Secretary and other senior officials on Holocaust issues, special events, and resources for the public on the Department’s flagship website on Holocaust issues.  Follow the Special Envoy on Twitter at @StateSEHI.

A group of people stand with bowed heads at an outdoor memorial with candles
SEHI Ellen Germain joined Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff as a member of the U.S. delegation attending the solemn commemoration at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.


U.S. Department of State

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