Lithuania plans deal on Jews' property seized by Nazis, Soviets

6th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The long-awaited deal falls far short of the value of expropriated Jewish property in Lithuania.

Vilnius -- Lithuania plans to compensate its Jewish community for property seized by the occupying Nazi Germans during World War II and kept in state hands in the Soviet era, a draft law published Thursday said.

The state will pledge to pay 113 million litas (33 million euros, 41 million dollars) into a special fund from 2011 to 2021.

The long-awaited deal falls far short of the value of expropriated Jewish property in Lithuania, estimated at 377 million litas.

Simonas Gurevicius, executive director of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, nonetheless hailed the move, which comes after years of delay which had caused tension between his organisation and the government.

"We're pleased that the government has finally made a decision,” Gurevicius told AFP, adding that figures were less important than the move itself. “The stalled process is getting going at last."

Justice ministry spokesman Kestutis Saldziunas told AFP the sum "takes into account present-day circumstances."

Lithuania is teetering on the brink of recession and the government has slashed spending.

Lithuania was once home to a 220,000-strong Jewish community and Vilnius was a cultural hub known as the "Jerusalem of the North."

But 95 percent of Lithuania's Jews perished during the country's 1941 to 1944 German occupation at the hands of the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.

Jewish community buildings were seized and not returned during the ensuing decades of communist rule.

Currently, there are around 5,000 Jews living in Lithuania, which joined the European Union in 2004, 13 years after the Soviet bloc fell apart.

Synagogues were given back to the community several years ago but there had been no blanket deal for dozens more seized buildings, including former schools.

Jewish organisations had long blasted the government for foot-dragging.

The authorities countered that they could not settle the issue until different Jewish organisations agreed among themselves, for fear of facing later legal action from disgruntled groups.

The government is expected to formally consider the bill next week, after feedback from Jewish groups, but it is not clear when it would be put to parliament.


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