Ministry calls 36-million Euro allocation an ‘important
step of historical justice,’ but PMO’s restitution task
force says it’s too little, too late
The Foreign Ministry has welcomed Lithuania’s recent decision to create a compensation
fund for Jewish property confiscated during World War
II, but leading Israeli Holocaust restitution officials
criticize the effort as being too little, too late. The
argument highlights the tensions between the diplomats’
pragmatism and restitution officials’ feelings of justice
Last week, the government in Vilnius announced the establishment of a fund that,
over a period of 10 years, will give 36 million Euros
to Jewish education, as well as to religious and cultural
institutions and projects.
“The decision implements the
law approved by the Lithuanian parliament on this issue,
and constitutes an important step towards providing historical
justice for the Lithuanian Jewish community,” the Foreign
Ministry in Jerusalem announced.
The Lithuanian government
likewise spoke of a “historic decision,” with Prime Minister’s
Chancellor Deividas Matulionis saying that it “might
become a model of sorts for other states having historical
But for Bobby Brown, the director
of the government-sponsored Project HEART — which stands
for Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce — the deal
between Vilnius and Lithuania’s Jews is less than satisfying,
since only Lithuanian citizens benefit from the fund.
A joint initiative of the
Israeli government — under the auspices of the Prime
Minister’s Office — and the Jewish Agency, Project HEART
seeks to identify Jewish property lost or stolen before
or during World War II, with the goal of obtaining restitution
for survivors or their heirs.
“We want a wholesome process
where every Jew of Lithuanian heritage who has ancestors
who lost property during the Holocaust can file a request
that will be examined if found to be valid, that restitution
or compensation be granted,” Brown told The Times of
Israel. “We are requesting from the Lithuanian government
the implementation of a process that allows Holocaust
survivors and their heirs everywhere in the world — whether
they live in Vilnius, Ramat Gan or Chicago — to be able
to make a claim over a reasonable amount of time.”
Efraim Zuroff, the director
of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, was also
critical of the deal, which the government in Vilnius
struck with the local Jewish community, with the help
of the director of International Jewish Affairs for the
American Jewish Committee, Rabbi Andrew Baker.
“There are several problems
with this arrangement: first of all, the sum is much
too low. Secondly, the discussions about it — until a
deal was signed — took too long, so that most Holocaust
survivors who could have benefited from it have died
in the meantime,” Zuroff said.
Zuroff is one of the most
outspoken critics of Jerusalem’s increasingly friendly
diplomatic relations with Lithuania, lamenting that the
Baltic nation is actively involved in marginalizing the
Holocaust and is not tough enough on anti-Semitism.
“The deal is entirely in line
with the bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel
and the Foreign Ministry’s refusal to hold Lithuania
responsible for their systemic campaign of Holocaust
marginalization,” Zuroff said.
Tensions between the Foreign
Ministry and people involved in Holocaust restitution
efforts are not new: Out of political pragmatism, Israel’s
diplomats are interested in good relations with Eastern
European nations and are thus wary of demands they feel
are unrealistic and may turn sour bilateral cooperation.
Those demanding reparations reject such considerations
as opportunistic and unfair in the face of the injustice
done to Jews during the Holocaust.