Lithuania approves Jewish Holocaust property plan

16th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Lithuanian Jewish community leader Simonas Gurevicius insisted the sum -- worth only around one third of the value of the expropriated property -- fell far short of what the Jewish community wanted.

Vilnius -- Lithuania's government Wednesday approved a compensation plan for Jewish communal property seized by the Nazis in World War II and kept by the Soviet regime, despite criticism that the package was too small.

The Baltic state's centre-right coalition said it had agreed to provide a total of 128 million litas (37 million euros, 52 million dollars).

Lithuanian Jewish community leader Simonas Gurevicius insisted the sum -- worth only around one third of the value of the expropriated property -- fell far short of what the Jewish community wanted.

"The government should come out and say that they are only giving us partial compensation," he told AFP.

But Gurevicius also hailed the move as an "important step" given that the country is struggling with an economic crisis.

"The state has understood that this issue needs to be solved," he said.

The debate over Jewish property has endured since Lithuania broke from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1990.

Synagogues were returned to the community several years ago. But there was no blanket deal for dozens of other former communal buildings such as schools, and Vilnius has faced mounting pressure from international Jewish groups and US lawmakers in recent months.

In March, the government earmarked 113 million litas in cash compensation, with payouts into a special fund from 2011. That date has since been shifted to 2012, and the process is due to end in 2022.

The government decided to include some property in kind after Lithuanian Jewish groups condemned the cash-only offer.

On Monday it decided to add two buildings in Vilnius -- one now a museum of Jewish history, the other a former library -- to the package, with their estimated value being included in the overall sum.

Gurevicius protested that the Jewish community would not be free to spend the compensation as it saw fit. The government wants the money earmarked for Holocaust survivors, community activities and schooling.

Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius rejected the complaints.

"A major part of the Jewish community, whether in Lithuania or at the international level, backs this compensation model," he claimed, although he acknowledged there were "still some points of disagreement".

Parliament must still approve the package. The government aims to table the compensation bill soon with a view to settling the issue in the autumn.

Pre-war Lithuania was home to 220,000 Jews. Vilnius was a cultural hub known as the "Jerusalem of the North".

But 95 percent perished during the 1941-1944 German occupation at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators.

Today, some 5,000 Jews live in Lithuania.

AFP/Expatica

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