Holocaust-Era Property Restitution

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.

Agreements

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.

Then-U.S. Special Advisor on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat and French Human Rights Ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay sign the agreement in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2014.
Then-U.S. Special Advisor on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat and French Human Rights Ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay sign the agreement in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2014.

The JUST Act Report to Congress

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.


Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research

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.

On January 19, 2020, the United States joined other nations in endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance 2020 Ministerial Declaration, which pledged each country to fight the rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination; confront Holocaust distortion and denial; and encourage historically accurate Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.
On January 19, 2020, the United States joined other nations in endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance 2020 Ministerial Declaration, which pledged each country to fight the rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination; confront Holocaust distortion and denial; and encourage historically accurate Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.

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.

SEHI supports the use of the IHRA Recommendations for Teaching and Learning About the Holocaust (available at www.holocaustremembrance.com) to ensure that the Holocaust is properly and accurately taught in the United States and abroad.
SEHI supports the use of the IHRA Recommendations on Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust to ensure that the Holocaust is properly and accurately taught in the United States and abroad.

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.

What Did Americans Know? (Photo courtesy the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from the “Americans and the Holocaust” museum and online exhibits)
What did Americans know? (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition at the museum and online)

The Return of Holocaust-era Looted and Confiscated Property

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.

Sgt. Harold Maus of Scranton, PA examines an album of engravings by Albrecht Duerer that was found in a vault containing numerous other art treasures that were looted by the Nazi regime. (Date: April 17, 1945. Photographer: Donald R. Ornitz. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)
Sgt. Harold Maus of Scranton, PA examines an album of engravings by Albrecht Duerer that was found in a vault containing numerous other art treasures that were looted by the Nazi regime.

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.

U.S. Department of State

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