Lithuania's Jews unhappy with WWII property offer

21st April 2009, Comments 0 comments

In March, the Lithuanian government issued a draft law aiming to settle the vexed issue of compensation for property seized from what until the Holocaust was a thriving Jewish community.

Vilnius -- Lithuania's Jews are not satisfied with a compensation plan for property seized by occupying Nazi Germans during World War II and kept by the state in the Soviet era, a leader said Monday.

"There is a lack of clarity about the fund that would set up to distribute the money," Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said after meeting with Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

He also complained that the package on the table offered only financial compensation for expropriated property, and did not also allow for the return of actual buildings.

"We think that the property should be given back," Alperavicius said.

In March, the Lithuanian government issued a draft law aiming to settle the vexed issue of compensation for property seized from what until the Holocaust was a thriving Jewish community.

The debate has dragged on since Lithuania broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1990.

Under the compensation plan, the state pledged to pay 113 million litas (33 million euros, 43 million dollars) into a special fund from 2011 to 2021.

"Nobody has explained how this sum was set," said Alperavicius.

The figure fell far short of the value of expropriated Jewish property in Lithuania, estimated at 377 million litas.

Property prices in the Baltic state have been on a rollercoaster in recent years, as the country enjoyed breakneck economic growth before sliding into what is now expected to be a deep recession.

The government has been slashing public spending in the face of the crisis.

The Jewish community has also expressed disquiet over the fact that it would not be free to spend the compensation funds as it saw fit. Instead, the government wants the money earmarked for community activities and schooling.

Kubilius said he hoped that the draft law would not be changed radically and a decision would be reached in the near future.

"Discussions are still going on, but we have a principal position that restitution is Lithuania’s constitutional duty," he said.

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 1941-1944 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.

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.

AFP/Expatica

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