The Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, 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. The Offices supports the U.S. Government interest in a Europe committed to democracy, pluralism, human rights, and tolerance. The Office works to provide a measure of justice to and assist Holocaust victims and their families, and to create an infrastructure that assures future generations will remember the Holocaust in an historically accurate manner.
Specifically, the Office seeks to bring closure to Holocaust-era issues left outstanding during the Cold War. Before 1989, the Soviet Union and its satellites refused to permit research into Holocaust questions or consider restitution to Holocaust victims and their heirs. The end of communist governments in Eastern Europe made it possible to extend Holocaust programs to these countries.
Working with partners, such as the government of Israel, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Holocaust survivors and other stakeholders, the Office advocates 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 and 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 property, and other personal injuries. The U.S. Special Envoy leads advocacy on these issues as well, and serves on the boards of several institutions and international organizations dedicated to Holocaust-era restitution and remembrance.
In addition, the Office of the Special Envoy:
- Urges Central and East European countries to pass legislation or otherwise return illegally-confiscated communal, private, and heirless property to rightful owners or provide fair compensation in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration.
- Leads the United States delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the premier intergovernmental organization on Holocaust-era issues.
- Encourages the restitution of Nazi looted art and cultural property to rightful owners following the Washington Principles for the Return of Nazi Looted Art.
- Supports the Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism in advancing U.S. efforts to combat anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial and revisionism.
- Serves as an ex-officio member of the Holocaust Memorial Council, which is the board of directors of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Works with the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad to assure European governments protect and preserve cemeteries and religious sites of significance to Americans.