Kubilius calls move country’s "moral responsibility"; Simon Wiesenthal Center official criticizes ‘very bad deal.’
After years of delays Lithuania officially passed a law on Wednesday that will
give the local Jewish community $52 million in return
for communal property lost or confiscated during and
after World War II.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said the ratification of the bill
approved in principle last summer acknowledged the suffering
of the country’s Jewish community decimated during the
“These decisions are needed
for all of us, needed for historic justice, and by doing
this we have made a huge step forward to assuming our
moral responsibility for history, sometimes difficult
and tragic history,” Kubilius was quoted as saying.
The vast majority of the country’s
estimated 220,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and
their Lithuanian collaborators during World War II.
Kubilius said the money will
go towards supporting community centers, schools and
other projects catering to the country’s remaining 4,000
Rabbi Andrew Baker, director
of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish
Committee, who was deeply involved in negotiations with
the Lithuanian government, said he “wholeheartedly commended”
the government for reaching its decision even though
it was not the deal he initially hoped for.
“There’s a good side and a
bad side,” he said. “The law we wanted would have resulted
in a more substantial value being restituted or paid
but it would have been a longer process.”
Baker said the first of the
payments spread over 10 years will be used in part to
compensate Holocaust survivors in the country.
But Efraim Zuroff, Israeli
director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was deeply critical
of the deal, and accused the government of intentionally
ignoring the issue for years and paying nine times less
than the worth of Jewish assets lost.
“This is a very bad deal but
at least it’s something,” he said. “Unfortunately, the
passage of the law was delayed for years during which
most of the survivors passed away.”
Zuroff excoriated Baker personally
for his part in reaching the agreement, saying the AJC
official had been too accommodating towards the Lithuanians.
Baker responded to Zuroff’s
accusations saying the agreement was the best that could
be brokered at this time given the complexity of evaluating
and returning Jewish property.
“This was not ideal,” he said,
“but it’s easy to stand on the outside and criticize
and Mr. Zuroff has done that [for] many years.”
The $52 million in compensation
is in return for destroyed community assets like synagogues,
schools and cemeteries. Private Jewish property, however,
remains unaddressed, Baker said.
“Those Jews living in Lithuania
received something,” he said. “Some claims of those living
abroad have not been addressed.”
He said destroyed or appropriated
private property was a more thorny issue and that most
countries in Eastern Europe have still not fully solved