We are grateful that the United States continues to focus on providing restoration for Holocaust victims around the world. The men and women who survived the Holocaust witnessed some of the most horrific crimes ever perpetrated against mankind, including murders, destruction and the theft of property.
The JUST Act report, issued by the U.S. State Department, provides a report card on the progress that nations have made to provide reparations to these victims.
With so few victims remaining alive, we believe it is time for the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) to reintroduce and pass a 2019 bill that would provide minimum restitution for more than 200 properties seized from the Jewish community during WWII and the Soviet occupation.
The portion of the report dedicated to Latvia, which was a signatory to the Terezin Declaration in 2009, identifies significant achievements, such as the archival and historical research, education, and preservation of the memory of Holocaust victims.
The Latvian Council of Jewish Communities and its members have taken an active part in this work, which will continue with the support of Latvian authorities. Over the past 20 years, we have built memorials at more than 200 sites where mass executions of Jews occurred. We have identified the names of hundreds of saviors and their righteous names have been immortalized in the memorial to the saviors of Jews in the center of Riga. And, we have learned new facts and discovered and examined new documents.
Unfortunately, the report also points out Latvia’s slow progress in the area of restitution of Jewish property. From 1991 to 2016, the State returned only a small part of the communal and religious property confiscated from the Jewish community during the Soviet occupation and during the Holocaust; despite the fact that our Council has identified 265 more properties that are subject to restitution.
The report stated that political resistance was one of the factors that prompted the withdrawal of the 2019 bill. It also notes that political considerations and fears of financial costs associated with restitution are delaying actions in other countries, as well.
Since the end of 1990, the Council has remained in constant dialogue with the Government and Parliament (Saeima) of Latvia on the restitution of property of the pre-war Jewish community. This process has been slow and difficult. But we hope that the government and coalition parties will gain the political will to do the right thing. And, we remain optimistic that Latvia will soon become one of the countries that has fully complied with its obligations under the Terezin Declaration.
While the story of the Holocaust must never be forgotten, providing restitution will help our nation turn the page on this tragic time in history.
Latvian Council of Jewish Communities