Leaders honor WWII Jew rescuers, address property restitution

  • 2006-09-20
  • From wire reports
VILNIUS - Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas has announced that the government would seek solutions for returning former Jewish property owners their deserved land, which is currently a primary concern among the minority population.

"[All of the property formerly owned by Jews] will not necessarily be returned, as compensation will make up a certain percentage," the prime minister specified in an interview with Lithuanian national radio.
The topic was brought up during a meeting between ministry undersecretaries on Sept. 19.
Kirkilas said that disunity among Lithuania's Jewish community has complicated the restitution issue.

"The problem is truly difficult because the Jewish community once owned a large amount of property, a large part of which was destroyed during the war. And the Lithuanian Jewish community's disunity has also complicated the issue: some agree with one solution, while others object to it. We would like to find a legal solution," the PM said.
Late last year, the Jewish community presented the government with a list of property to be returned, which included 438 buildings. The government, however, said it was only ready to acknowledge the community's claims to 156 buildings.
Before the restitution process can legally begin in Lithuania, the government must examine the grounds of property owners' claims.

Parliament must also pass amendments to the 1995 law on restitution of property rights to religious communities. The current legislation allows for the restoration of religious community property, but does not refer to the estates of former public organizations.

Lithuania's Jews, however, never divided their institutes into religious or public property.
On Sept. 15, a ceremony was held at the President's Office recognizing Lithuanians who saved Jews during the Holocaust. President Valdas Adamkus honored the Lithuanians, saying that they served as an example for reconciliation between the two peoples.

"You, rescuers of Lithuanian Jews and their relatives, are the best teachers whose work is witness that society cannot be indifferent to the killing of innocent people in its country," he said.
Forty-one of the 59 people being granted Life Saving Crosses received them posthumously. The awards were meant to coincide with Lithuanian Jewish Genocide Day, on Sept. 23, which commemorates the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto in 1943. Due to the president's scheduling conflicts, the ceremony was held one week early.

"It is impossible to understand the strife of the annihilators who had lost their humanity to massacre people for fostering their national dignity and identity, [who] respected their traditions without disturbing others," the president said.
He said there had been a perceived indifference during that time that continued to cloud relations between Lithuanians and Jews.

"The sore lessons of history are difficult for all of us," he said. "Nevertheless, they are more valuable if we learn them better. I am convinced that our nation and the society are learning the most difficult lessons better with every day."
Awards honoring Lithuanian rescuers of Jews are typically presented twice a year at the President's Office, once in September during Lithuanian Jewish Genocide Day, and once in the spring during Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is a national holiday in Israel, but is also recognized in many other parts of the world.

About 90 percent of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish population of 220,000 were killed during World War II.