The United States has strongly supported efforts to gain restitution of or compensation for property that was confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators from 1933 to 1945 and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. A successful property restitution program is an indicator of the effectiveness of the rule of law in a country, and non-discriminatory, effective property laws are of crucial importance to a healthy market economy. From 1945 to 2018, for example, the German government paid approximately $86.8 billion in restitution and compensation to Holocaust victims and their heirs. Nonetheless, there is more to be done to find a measure of justice for Holocaust victims, survivors, and heirs. Many European countries still have important work to do in relation to restitution of or compensation for movable and immovable private, communal/religious, and heirless property seized or wrongfully transferred under duress.
Strong U.S. government leadership and advocacy were decisive in the conclusion of many of the major restitution agreements to date. Since the late 1990s, several important agreements have provided new payments to victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs: the Swiss Bank Settlement (dormant bank accounts); the German Foundation Agreement (slave and forced labor, insurance, property); two Austrian Funds (slave and forced labor, insurance, private property); the French Bank Agreement (bank accounts); agreements on insurance; and restitution agreements and settlements in a number of European countries.
In 2014, the Department entered into an agreement with the French government to establish the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program to compensate Holocaust survivors who were deported by France’s state rail company SNCF during the Nazi occupation but were previously excluded from French compensation programs. The deadline for submitting claims has passed, but additional information on this initiative is available here.
In the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017, the U.S. Congress directed the Department of State to submit a report on the property restitution record of the countries that endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-Era Assets. The Terezin Declaration is a non-binding statement ultimately endorsed by 47 countries that seeks to resolve remaining Holocaust-era property restitution issues, among other issues. The JUST Act was signed into law by President Trump on May 4, 2018. The Report is available to the general public on SEHI’s website as is Secretary Pompeo’s statement, and the transcript of the State Department briefing on the JUST Act Report on July 29, 2020.
Teaching Holocaust history requires a high level of sensitivity and keen awareness of the complexity of the subject matter. Providing an accurate understanding of the Holocaust and the lessons that it offers is a way to confront growing anti-Semitism worldwide. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum provides extensive background information, including on the victims of the Holocaust.
The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues heads the U.S. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. The IHRA had 34 member states as of December 5, 2019, as well as a number of liaison and observer countries and partner organizations. The body works to strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education, research, and remembrance and to uphold the tenets of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration, which were supplemented on January 19, 2020, with the issuance of the 2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration.
Teaching Materials – U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers important Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust that reflect approaches appropriate for effective teaching of the Holocaust, as well as a compendium of teaching materials by topic. For older students, the USHMM’s Americans and the Holocaust pages are of particular historical interest.
The Department of State does not espouse individual Holocaust-era property claims; rather, it serves as an advocate to foreign governments for comprehensive private property laws or mechanisms that would apply fairly and equitably to all whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust era or subsequently nationalized during the Communist era.
The Holocaust was one of the greatest organized thefts in history, providing a source of revenue to the Third Reich and the Axis Powers while attempting to wipe out all vestiges of Jewish life and culture in Europe. The scale of looting by the Nazis and their collaborators was unprecedented, encompassing art, businesses, land, residences, and cultural/religious properties such as synagogues, sacred religious items, cemeteries, schools, and community centers. The estimated 600,000 looted paintings – some 100,000 of which are still missing – underlines the scale of the theft.
Since 2015, SEHI has supported the National Archives and Records Administration, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums in their workshops on provenance research. Their initiative has strengthened art restitution in the United States by welcoming both museum professionals and independent analysts to exchange best practices and improve provenance research skills.
The following information is pertinent to claims for works of art and related property:
- Claims for artwork should be forwarded to foreign governments directly.
- A bibliography with information on looted art may be accessed on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- The U.S. government supports the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
- The National Archives’ International Research Portal is a collaboration of national and other archival institutions with records that pertain to Nazi-era cultural property.
- The Holocaust Claims Processing Office of the New York State Department of Financial Services was established in 1997 to assist Holocaust victims worldwide, free of charge, with restitution claims for assets lost as a result of Nazi persecution, including bank accounts, insurance policies, works of art, and other material losses.