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Countries call for return of property seized during Holocaust

Forty-three countries on Wednesday announced their support for a new set of guidelines [text, PDF] to ensure a more diligent effort is made to return real property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust [JURIST news archive] to its rightful owners or heirs. The guidelines, first proposed at last year's Holocaust Era Assets Conference [official website], are legally non-binding, but are described as "morally important." Countries will use the guidelines within the framework of their own laws in order to "bring a measure of justice to Holocaust survivors as well as other victims of these persecutions, and their heirs." The agreement calls for the return of real property to individuals or religious or communal organizations who had their property wrongly seized during the period of 1933 to 1945. The rightful owner would be determined by the last recorded owner before the property was seized, and restitution of the property would result in clear title. The agreement also recognizes the rights of current, good-faith, private property owners indicating they should be properly compensated if their property is taken. Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer called the agreement "a partial step" toward justice [statement, in Czech], but indicated that countries must continue working to protect the interests of Holocaust survivors.

The approach taken toward Holocaust reparations has varied across countries. Last June, a German court ruled that Holocaust survivors are entitled to collect pension benefits [JURIST report] as a result of the work they performed in concentration camps. In 2008, a US appeals court ordered the return of a painting [JURIST report] confiscated from a Jewish art gallery owner in Germany immediately prior to the Holocaust. Earlier that year, the Belgian government and Belgian banks agreed to pay nearly $170 million in reparations [JURIST report] to compensate the Holocaust survivors for the money and goods they lost during World War II. A Belgian government commission found in 2007 that the Belgian government had been complicit [JURIST report] in Nazi persecution of the Jewish population during the Holocaust and the country's courts failed to hold Belgian authorities accountable for persecuting and deporting Jews after World War II. In 2005, Austria began its compensation process [JURIST report] for victims robbed of businesses, property, bank accounts and insurance policies under the Nazi regime.

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