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 duties as the Special Envoy on August 23, 2021.
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. Follow SEHI on Twitter at @StateSEHI.
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:
- 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 revisionism.
- Urges European countries to pass legislation or otherwise return confiscated communal, private, and heirless property to rightful owners, or provide fair compensation in accordance with their commitments under the 2009 Terezin Declaration.
- Leads the U.S. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance , the 34-member inter-governmental organization founded in 2000 to advance Holocaust education, research, and remembrance worldwide.
- Serves as an ex-officio member of the Holocaust Memorial Council , which is the board of trustees of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum .
- Serves as the lead U.S. government representative on the International Commission of the International Tracing Service, which oversees the Arolsen Archives . The Archives were founded by the Allies in 1943 and are the world’s most comprehensive archives on the Holocaust and all victims and survivors of Nazi persecution. Governed by an international commission of 11 countries — the United States is serving as Chair for one year beginning in June 2020 — the Archives are funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM). Since May 2019, the Archives have uploaded millions of documents on some 17.5 million people and made them available online to the public.
- 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 [4 MB]. 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.
- Oversees the Department’s annual observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, 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. Commemorated often in partnership with the international diplomatic community in Washington, DC, Yom HaShoah also honors the survivors of history’s darkest hour and those heroes who found the courage to resist Nazi oppression. In 2020, the annual event was held virtually with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2021, Yom HaShoah will be commemorated on April 8.