Lithuania pushing Jewish WWII property deal to 2012
Vilnius -- Lithuania is to delay payments from a compensation fund for Jewish property seized by the Nazis during World War II and kept by the state in the Soviet era, a government spokesman said Monday.
"The government has decided that compensation payouts will begin in 2012, because of the economic crisis, and will continue for 10 years," Ridas Jasulionis told AFP after a cabinet meeting.
Under rules drawn up in March, and yet to be approved by parliament, Lithuania had decided to start payouts in 2011 in an attempt to settle the vexed issue of compensation for property seized from the Jewish community before the Holocaust.
The Lithuanian government has been slashing public spending in the face of a crisis which is expected to see the economy shrink by 18.2 percent this year.
Under the compensation plan, the state pledged to pay out 113 million litas (33 million euros, 46 million dollars) — about one third of the value of such property — from a government fund up to 2021.
Lithuania’s Jewish community, which the government asked for feedback, had in April said the fund’s role was unclear and also complained that the package offered only compensation for expropriated property, and not for the return of buildings.
Jasulionis said the government was still looking for ways to have buildings returned in kind.
The compensation debate has dragged on since Lithuania broke free from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Before World War II, Lithuania was home to a 220,000-strong Jewish community, and Vilnius was known as a cultural hub.
But 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jews perished during the 1941 to 1944 German occupation, at the hands of the German 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.