Property Issues

Holocaust wasn’t just a mass murder, it was also a mass theft. During the Second World War, over six million Jews were systematically murdered and millions more were imprisoned or exiled. Entire families and communities were destroyed, some irrevocably.  Today, more than seventy years later, many victims and their families continue to await justice. The reprehensible devastation brought upon Europe’s Jewish communities is even more outrageous when you consider the fact that the widespread looting of their personal and immovable property contributed to funding their own demise.

As Terezin Declaration says: “Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom dies heirless.”

The European Shoah Legacy Institute worked hard to fulfil the Terezin Declaration provision. 

In 2010, ESLI published  ‘Guidelines and Best Practices for the Restitution and Compensation of Immovable (Real) Property, that was subsequently endorsed by 43 countries. 

In 2012, ESLI organized the International Property Review Conference focusing on a progress made since the endorsement of the Terezin Declaration. The Conference  was attended by 39 countries. 

In 2015, ESLI commissioned an extensive immovable property restitution study which maps how and to what extent countries were fulfilling their moral obligations under the Terezin Declaration and 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. This unique study was officially launched at the European Parliament in April 2017 during a conference entitled “Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance” co-organised by ESLI at the European Parliament in Brussels. This Conference was hosted under the patronage of European Parliament president Mr. Antonio Tajani  who also opened the conference.  The Conference was attended by Members of the European Parliament, representatives of the European Commission, governmental officials including two ministers, Holocaust survivors, and representatives of non-governmental organisations. The Conference concluded in a Declaration signed by over 70 MEPs that will be utilized as a tool for encouraging governments to deal with post-Holocaust justice.

In addition to immovable property, ESLI was also active in promoting the restitution of movable property and the importance of provenance research as the means for protecting cultural heritage during armed conflicts.  Between 2012 and 2014, ESLI organized and hosted a series of five workshops, known as the Provenance Research Training Program across European capitals. Moreover, we managed to bring this issue on the European level thanks to close cooperation with the Committee of Legal Affairs of the European Parliament. As part of these activities, ESLI hosted an exhibition and conference on conflict looting and the importance of provenance research to cultural heritage protection. The conference and exhibition concluded with the decision of the Committee on Legal Affairs to commission a study concerning legislation to mandate provenance research as an indispensable mechanism to combat an illegal trade with plundered cultural heritage.