For first time, Lithuania considers Holocaust restitution bill for individuals

The prime minister, who introduced the legislation, admitted the close to $40 million was a ‘symbolic’ sum.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Lithuania’s prime minister has introduced a bill to the country’s parliament that would set aside €37 million to pay restitution for the first time ever to individual Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

“I believe this is an issue that Lithuania finally needs to resolve,” Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė  told reporters when she submitted the proposed law to the Seimas.

Legislation passed in 2011 established a “Good Will Foundation” to pay a similar amount, €36 million, over the course of 10 years, for real estate confiscated from Jewish communities during the Nazi and Soviet periods. According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), which is a partner in the foundation, this amount was what the government determined was 30% of the value of 152 Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and related properties.

Besides being used to support Jewish communal life in Lithuania, it helped restore several Jewish heritage sites, said the WJRO, and provided a “modest” one-time grant in 2014 of approximately $1.1 million that was split among more than 1,550 needy Lithuanian Holocaust survivors around the world.

But most individual Jews who fled the country during or immediately after World War II, or their heirs, have never been compensated in any way for their private property. There had been a real-estate restitution law, but only for Lithuanian citizens. When that law was declared unconstitutional years after the application period expired, the process was never reopened for resubmission of claims.

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According to Šimonytė, one part of the new law will provide a way for “symbolic financial compensation” in the form of “a flat amount per claim” to be paid to those who could not apply for restitution in the past but are now found to be eligible.

Survivors or their heirs have until December 31, 2023, to submit their documentation, with compensation being paid out over a seven-year period beginning in 2024.

While not mentioning the actual proportions, she said that “the greater part” of the €37 million would again be allocated to Lithuania’s tiny Jewish community, which currently stands at 5,000 members.

The reason for this, she noted, was that “a very large part of the property…would be classified as so-called ownerless property, for the sole reason that not only the majority, but the absolute majority of the Jews who lived here perished in the Holocaust in Lithuania.”

Since it “is objectively impossible to determine those heirs,“ she stated, this portion of the money would go to the community.

A full 90% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

While acknowledging, as the prime minister did, that the compensation was symbolic, the WJRO hailed the proposed legislation.

The law is “an important step to providing a measure of justice to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and their families for the horrors they suffered during World War II and its aftermath,” the group said in a statement.

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The part that will go to the community through the Good Will Foundation, the statement continued, “will have a significant impact on strengthening and supporting Jewish communal life in Lithuania and addressing the welfare needs of the elderly, even though it may only be a fraction of the value of prewar Jewish property.”

The proposed law stands in sharp contrast to legislation that had been proposed in committee by a member of the former ruling party. In 2020, lawmaker Arunas Gumuliauskas requested a declaration ensconced in law absolving the state of all responsibility for the well-documented collaboration of so many of its citizens with the Nazi repression and murder of their Jewish neighbors.

The statement read in part, “The Lithuanian state did not participate in the Holocaust because it was occupied, just as the Lithuanian nation could not participate in the Holocaust because it was enslaved.”