A bi-partisan bill aimed at pushing European countries to step up their efforts in returning property to Holocaust survivors and their families was passed by the Senate in a unanimous vote Tuesday afternoon. Should it become law, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act would require the State Department to report on the progress of relevant nations with regard to their restitution of property that was “wrongfully seized or transferred” by the Nazis and their accomplices or by subsequent communist governments.
“The JUST Act is a powerful statement of the United States government’s bipartisan support for Holocaust survivors and their families,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations, said in a statement. “Through this legislation, the United States will help survivors achieve a small measure of justice for the wrongful seizure of their property during the Holocaust. Now is the time — while the remaining survivors are alive — for countries to provide restitution.”
This legislation builds on the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-Era Assets and Related Issues of 2009. The international accord recognized the restitution of Holocaust-era property to its rightful owners as a basic duty of democratic nations. Even though Poland and Hungary were not signatories of the Terezin Declaration, signed by 47 other countries, the legislation would require reporting on their efforts as well.
In previous interviews on the subject, WJRO representatives told Hamodia that while Germany and Austria have taken major steps in dealing with claims, most other nations lag far behind. While some have taken significant steps on the return of communal properties such as shuls and cemeteries, far less has been done to deal with personal property claims. This inaction prompted WJRO to lobby for the JUST Act’s introduction.
Co-sponsor Minority Leader Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) welcomed Tuesday’s passage of the bill.
“Passing this bill makes eminent sense and was the right thing to do, especially on this night, because the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust will always shine brightly like Chanukah candles,” he said in a statement.
The bill was initially introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Sen. Rubio spoke of the practical impact he hoped the JUST Act would have.
“By enhancing ongoing efforts between the State Department and European countries, this bill will help facilitate long-deserved restitution to survivors and their families whose property was stolen during the Holocaust.”
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Representatives Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), but has yet to come to a vote.