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Blogas » Still unresolved restitution - daily Haaretz, Israel

Still unresolved restitution - daily Haaretz, Israel

Paskelbta 2011 liepos mėn. 10 d. | 4 koment.

American Jewish organizations never even raised the possibility of reopening the subject of compensation for expropriated non-religious communal and private property.

The process of Jewish property restitution in Lithuania has dragged on for a decade now. Late last month, however, the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, voted 82 to seven (with 16 abstentions ) to approve a bill for compensation for communal property stolen during the Holocaust. This is good news, to be sure, but in my opinion, it is also too little too late.


Why did it take 10 years for Lithuanians to agree on the terms of restitution, and why was the amount to be distributed so low - roughly $53 million to be paid out over the next decade - when the property in question was estimated three years ago to be worth $155 million?


The natural tendency, perhaps, might be to blame the goyim: in this case, those Lithuanian "anti-Semites." However, at least some of the responsibility must be placed at the door of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and its representative for negotiations with the Lithuanian government, Rabbi Andrew Baker, an official with the American Jewish Committee.


The WJRO was established in 1992 to work for the restitution of Jewish-owned property in Europe lost or looted in the Holocaust. But restitution WJRO-style doesn't always work. It didn't work in Poland, where the government recently announced it planned to discontinue attempts to pass a restitution bill, and it hasn't worked in Latvia, where an attempt to pass a similar bill failed. And now we have Lithuania, where the Jewish community is less than happy with the results.


In no way meaning to simplify a complex problem, the explanation is simple: It takes two to tango. And in Lithuania, the WJRO let successive governments dance alone - for 10 years - while never seriously engaging in a real process of dialogue. Former Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, for example, told me recently that "the attitude toward us was surprisingly and unexpectedly aggressive, hostile ... We were open for talks. But Rabbi Baker demanded that we present the [proposed] bill to the Seimas even though a lot of information was still missing."


In one case, in 2005, when the Lithuanians quite reasonably asked the WJRO to submit documentation proving that the 1,500 buildings that it was claiming in the name of the Jewish community indeed belonged to the pre-war Jewish religious communities, its request was not addressed for years. Instead, the WJRO criticized the government harshly for, in its words, not doing enough to expedite matters. Is it any surprise that, in the end, only 108 buildings were approved for compensation?


Instead of real negotiations, the WJRO and American representatives preferred to employ a method one could describe as "squeeze the lemon," wherein the "lemon" in this case was Lithuania, which the WJRO seemed to regard as a nation where anyone can be bribed or threatened into submission.


At another time, a former adviser to Kirkilas told me he and his colleagues were threatened that they would be denied entry to the United States if the Lithuanian government continued to avoid a settlement. Not surprisingly, the so-called negotiations broke down.


When World War II ended, some 20,000 Lithuanian Jews had survived, out of a prewar Jewish population of 220,000. Large numbers left the country during the 1970s and then again in the '90s; today there are only some 5,000 registered Jews in Lithuania. After the country regained independence, in 1991, all citizens, including Jews, had four years to apply for restitution of private property - a deadline that was later extended to 2001. Hence, the most recent round of negotiations has concerned only communal property.


The Goodwill Law of Compensation for Jewish Religious Property that finally passed on June 21 was the initiative of the coalition government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who was making good on a personal promise made while the Conservative party was in opposition. Kubilius followed through in spite of polls showing that 58 percent of the public was opposed to restitution, as well as the serious economic crisis faced by the country.


From beginning to end, there was a stubborn unwillingness on the part of both the WJRO and the AJC to turn to a local Jewish partner that was more representative of the diversity and strength of the Jewish community than the organization they worked with, the Associated Lithuanian Jewish Community, an umbrella group of five smaller organizations. Additionally, they insisted that the only body that could take receipt of compensation funds was the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage Foundation, an ad hoc body composed of six members from the WJRO, and six from the ALJC. This foundation was formed in secret, and its bylaws - in the opinion of the Lithuanian Department of Justice - were not sufficiently transparent. (The recently passed bill requires the creation of a new foundation. )

Strangely, the American Jewish organizations never even raised the possibility of reopening the subject of compensation for expropriated nonreligious communal and private property. The Jewish community in Lithuania before the war operated kindergartens, schools, hospitals, orphanages, clubs, theaters, political parties, youth organizations, etc. Nobody during these negotiations claimed even a dime for all this lost property. And, by some estimates, the value of private property belonging to individuals alone could easily have reached $400 million.


But the biggest mistake made by the American Jewish Committee and the WJRO was that, once the international economic crisis hit, they continued pressing for a quick end to the compensation process, instead of asking to postpone the process for two years. The government would have been open to such a suggestion, and the delay would have allowed for the possibility of discussing a larger and more reasonable level of compensation.


The question of restitution is about more than money. But in the case of the WJRO and Lithuania, the arrogant behavior of those representing world Jewry not only allowed the Lithuanian government to get off cheaply, but left those within the Jewish community feeling that justice had not been served.


Arkadijus Vinokur was until recently the public consultant to the Lithuanian prime minister responsible for Jewish property restitution issues. The opinions expressed herein are his alone.

Publikuoti komentarą


  • With that kind of attitude I doubt that any of my arguments will be taken seriously... And why don't you present your self? Or you haven't got balls to do that?

    For instance, didn't occur to you that no benefits nor payment involved? That the main purpose of my is nothing but Jewish community interest in broad sense as I understand it?

    And why don't you ask the leadership of the ALJC what they have done with the 10 mill. USD during past 10 years period they got from the JOINT? Or 500 000 USD they received for selling the synagogue in the Old Town to Austrian FM? What they have done with money - the amount not known - for selling a synagogue in Plunge that was completely destroyed afterwards and a parking place was build instead?

    About my articles: yes, I get paid for my articles exactly as any journalist does. Is it strange? And sins when correct, based on facts criticism is equalled to an attack? And sins when criticism against the leadership of ALJC became "an attack on all fellow Jews"? Hearing that, it seems to me that you are a follower of the some kind communist - authoritarian ideology... Why don't you ask the leaders of the Panevzys, Siauliai, Ukmerge Jewish communities what they think about the behaviour of the representative at ALJC who never even tray to inform this communities about the ongoing restitution process that left this communities with no offices at all.

    Mr. Mausha Bairak and Mr. Emmanuel Zingeris are my friends who share some of the opinion of my. Mr. S. Pfeffer is not my friend and I do not agree his behaviour. By the way, are you taking money from your friends?

    Why do I became interested in community matters only when restitution was on the table? Why only? I understand that you do not read Lithuanian or just that you don't read my articles where I am quite often writing against anti - Semitism, defending Israel when I think is needed. In Lithuania I have written about 300 articles on all kind of issues, but about the restitution issues and criticism against the leadership of ALJC - only some 15 articles

    Did my answers made you think differently? Somehow I doubt that...

    Publikavo Arkadijus Vinokuras, 2011 liepos mėn. 13 d. 11:35 (prieš 11 metus)

  • You talk about transparency so be transparent. Who is funding you? Which benefits do you receive from the Government? What is your relation with Mr. Bayrak, Mr. Zingeris and Rabbi(?) Pfeffer? What is your agreement with them? How much you get paid for the articles you publish in the Lithuanian Media attacking your fellow Jews? Why you became interested in community matters only when restituion was on the table? Explain all that instead of quoting others.

    Publikavo arthur, 2011 liepos mėn. 12 d. 17:46 (prieš 11 metus)

  • Thank you for your opinion. Even though I do respect your emotions, but they are not based on facts. I would like to present another opinion by Mr. Joseph Melamed, chairmen of the Lithuanian Jewish community of Israel: “I am signing under every word in this article”.

    Publikavo Arkadijus Vinokuras, 2011 liepos mėn. 11 d. 11:44 (prieš 11 metus)

  • Shame on you. You were one of the main boycotters of the restitution efforts, and now you criticize those that achieved it. You did NOTHING for Lithuanian Jews, you only cause them suffering with your articles in the media. You should attone for all the bad you brought to that poor community. Haaretz obviously didn't know that they were publishing a piece by somebody that could easily be called a traitor, but there are many good people that are telling them that now.

    Publikavo arthur, 2011 liepos mėn. 11 d. 05:15 (prieš 11 metus)

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