Among the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews was the confiscation of property, including synagogues, Jewish schools, cemeteries, other land, art, jewelry, and anything else of value. Worse still, in some cases, proceeds from the sale of this property by the Nazis actually helped fund war-related activities that we know all too well took the lives of 6 million Jews and many others. After the Holocaust, these properties were nationalized by the communist governments that were in power for more than 40 years. Since that time, efforts have been made to achieve some small measure of justice by helping both individuals and communities get back this wrongly seized property (or more often, financial compensation in lieu of the property).
Yesterday, progress was made on this front: a set of best practices and guiding principles for the restitution of Jewish property taken during the Holocaust was agreed to in Prague by 43 countries. This is a follow-up to the Terezin Declaration, the first international agreement of its kind adopted last June at the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference as a roadmap for a transparent and faster process of returning private and Jewish community property. JDC played a key role in last year’s conference and the lead-up to yesterday’s ceremony in the Czech Republic.
JDC has actually worked since the mid-1990s on securing the return of synagogues and other Jewish community buildings in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, both on its own and via the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which JDC co-chairs.
But even when a Jewish community is successful in getting property returned to them by Europe and the former Soviet Union’s current national governments, it’s almost always in extremely poor condition from decades of use without upkeep under communist regimes. So ironically, even a successfully restituted property can actually become an expense or liability for a Jewish community today. Enter JDC...
JDC’s Strategic European Loan Fund (SELF) issues non-interest-bearing loans to Jewish communities to renovate and modernize restituted properties so that they can generate income that in turn supports current-day Jewish community activities. This process is helping Jewish communities secure the resources they need to continue the rebuilding of Jewish life from the ashes. One success story we’re especially proud of is helping Bratislava’s Jews transform a derelict pre-war Jewish hospital into an extended-stay hotel whose profits are now helping to fund the community’s Jewish renewal activities.
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