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Before World War II (WWII), an estimated 4,000 Jews lived in Spain.  Aside from a Spanish division of volunteers and conscripts who fought alongside Axis troops during the siege of Leningrad in Russia, Spain did not participate in WWII.  The Franco government did sell and exchange supplies with the Axis Powers.  Spanish diplomats in a number of European capitals played an important role in facilitating the escape of thousands of Jews.  An estimated 20,000‑30,000 Jews passed through Spanish territory after 1940 to flee persecution from Nazi‑controlled areas of Europe.

At present, an estimated 40,000-50,000 Jews live in Spain, with the majority concentrated in the provinces of Madrid, Barcelona, and Malaga, as well as in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.  The government supports Holocaust education and remembrance.  In recent years, Spain has enhanced activities to raise public awareness and reinforce historical memory regarding the Holocaust.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Spain has not enacted immovable property restitution laws, and the European Shoah Legacy Institute’s (ESLI) 2017 Immovable Property Restitution Study indicates that private property and communal property were not seized from Jewish communities in Spain during the Holocaust.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Spain participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and is a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics.  The government formed a Commission on Holocaust-era Assets in 1997 to investigate Spain’s economic relations with the Third Reich during WWII.  In 1999, the Commission’s work expanded to include an investigation regarding works of art bought or sold in Spain during the Holocaust.  The Commission concluded that, in terms of economic cooperation and movable property, Spain’s role was very limited.  An estimated one percent of all the art dealers operating in Europe conducted business in Spain during WWII.  Some Jewish groups and researchers criticized the Commission’s findings; specifically, they pointed out that the Commission did not conduct an investigation regarding the movement of looted works through Spain or sufficiently research existing art collections in Spain to ascertain whether they included works of art looted by Nazi Germany.

The Department is aware of one case involving movable property.  In 1939, Nazi officials forced a Jewish woman living in Germany to trade a Camille Pissarro painting, Rue Saint-Honoré, in return for safe passage out of Germany.  The painting was acquired in 1976 through a private purchase and was incorporated into the collection of Spain’s Thyssen Museum in 1993.  The woman’s heirs filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles for the return of the painting.

According to a statement issued in November 2018, the museum assessed the painting had been acquired transparently and legally and maintained that the family’s restitution claims had been addressed with the German government in 1958.  In an April 2019 decision, the appellate court ruled in favor of the Thyssen Museum on the basis that the painting’s ownership was bound by Spanish law, which allows buyers to retain works purchased if they did not possess “actual knowledge” the works had been stolen.

According to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE), there are very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country, and thus the Spanish government addresses restitution claims on a case-by-case basis.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

There is no centralized catalog of pending cases or claims regarding Judaica or Jewish cultural property.  The FCJE reported no restitution cases in 2018.

Access to Archival Documents

Regarding archival documents, Centro Sefarad-Israel is Spain’s public-private institution tasked with fulfilling the country’s commitment from the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.  The institution operates as the main resource and portal for Holocaust information, including educational and research resources, testimonials, literature, and access to the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and other archival institutions.  Cooperation between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Spanish governmental archives, particularly the National Archives, has been difficult in recent years, although there was earlier cooperation by some local archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Spain is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the government supports annual remembrance ceremonies.  For the past seven years, Spain’s Parliament has held an annual ceremony in conjunction with the FCJE to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The 2019 event, “State Act in Commemoration of the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity,” was convened by Spain’s upper house of parliament on January 24 with participation by Spain’s Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs.  In April 2019, the Spanish government approved an executive decree establishing an annual commemoration specifically for victims of the Holocaust.  In May 2019, the Minister of Justice visited the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria to honor and recognize victims of WWII and the Holocaust.

In coordination with the country’s Jewish federation, in 2018 the government began offering training programs and seminars to teachers on the Holocaust and issues in combatting anti-Semitism.  A network of teaching professionals focuses on promoting additional training and has incorporated Holocaust education into school curricula, according to FCJE.  Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continues to expand in accordance with a Ministry of Education mandate.  There is also a “Network for Holocaust Memory” established by the Federation of Madrid Municipalities to promote knowledge and consciousness across the 30-plus municipalities in the region of Madrid.

There is state-funded support for promoting Jewish culture and heritage and for the promotion of Holocaust remembrance and religious tolerance.  Centro Sefarad-Israel promotes cooperation between Spanish society and the Jewish community, with special focus on the values of coexistence based on the lessons arising from the tragedy of the Holocaust.  The group also organizes lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Spain
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