VILNIUS, LITHUANIA – A 13-member US Congressional delegation pressed Lithuanian officials at the highest levels to resolve the long-standing issue of property owed to the Jewish community after its seizure during the Nazi era.
Led by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hasting (D-FL), Commission members raised the issue in separate meetings today with President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Andrisu Kubilius, and yesterday with Speaker of Seimas (Parliament) Arunas Valinskas. Delegation members also discussed the troubling matter of anti-Semitism, particularly that emanating from the media.
Lithuania is among the last countries to enact property restitution laws and return communal property to families or communities who saw their schools, synagogues and other community buildings seized during the Nazi or Communist eras.
“It’s long past time to resolve this issue,” Chairman Cardin said. “I understand that economic times are difficult, but property must be returned to its rightful owners. Given the human slaughter that took place here, this is a clear matter of justice and morality. I call on Lithuania to respect the obligation for a timely and fair settlement with the Jewish community that respects true property valuations. It is urgent to begin disbursements while Holocaust survivors are still alive.”
The United States has strongly supported efforts to return to rightful owners property confiscated during the Nazi era and later by communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe.
“For a country like Lithuania that has opened up in so many positive ways in recent years, it would be a shame for the country to become known as the last hold-out nation to provide compensation to its decimated Jewish community,” Co-Chairman Hastings said.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), a Lithuanian-American, added, “I ask Lithuania’s leaders to resolve the matter of Jewish property in an honest and timely manner.”
In Vilnius for the 18th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the delegation took the opportunity to raise the Jewish property issue in these bilateral meetings with senior Lithuanian officials.
Vilnius was once known the “Jerusalem of the North,” however, Lithuanian Jews suffered among the worst death rates of any country in the Holocaust. More than 90 percent of the Jews were wiped out in killing fields and death camps.
The delegation also praised Lithuania for its commitment to freedom and democratic principles. The country has been a reliable U.S. ally, committing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has expressed willingness to accept detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
“We appreciate the fact Lithuania returned some synagogues to the community years ago, but more needs to be done. Current proposals by the government are a fraction of the value of the communal properties once owned by Lithuania’s Jewish community. Lithuania should resolve the issue of property owed to the Jewish community, and work to curtail the troubling rise in anti-Semitism, particularly in the media,” Chairman Cardin said.