Clock ticking on Jewish restitution

  • 2011-01-19
  • From wire reports

RIGA - Later this month, U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson will visit Latvia to meet with government officials and representatives from the Jewish community in Latvia in order to discuss restoring the community’s right to property that was taken from Latvian Jews during the Nazi occupation, or compensating the community for these properties, the U.S. Embassy in Riga said, reports news agency LETA. During the visit, expected on Jan. 24 and 25, restitution to the Jewish community for the property that has not yet been compensated for, or property that belonged to Latvian Jews who perished during the Holocaust, will be discussed.

Since Jewish organizations were terminated during the Nazi occupation, the Jewish community could not claim restitution when the independence of Latvia was restored. Now that the Jewish community in Latvia has been restored, the United States wishes to support the dialogue between the Latvian government and the community, explains the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. Embassy believes that these properties must be returned to the Jewish community before the last Holocaust survivors die. If return is impossible, then, according to international standards, fair compensation must be agreed upon.
Altogether, the Jewish community wishes to be compensated with 31 million lats (44.2 million euros) for properties in Latvia that it lost during the war.

Saeima Legal Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ilma Cepane was one of the officials invited to the U.S. Embassy, but she declined the invitation, not wishing to comment on talks that had not yet taken place. However, she says that, in her personal opinion, the question of the Jewish community’s former properties is a highly sensitive issue given the current economic situation. Furthermore, it must be taken into account that after the restoration of independence of Latvia there were no obstacles, neither to private individuals nor to legal entities, including religious organizations, to restore their property rights.
On Jan. 11, representatives from the U.S. Embassy held a meeting with Justice Ministry officials. Justice Minister Aigars Stokenbergs (Unity) said that Justice Ministry’s State Secretary Martins Lazdovskis would participate in the meeting with Davidson. Stokenbergs said he had no reason to participate, because property matters have been settled in Latvia, thus there is nothing to talk about.

The daily Latvijas Avize notes, however, that, as the local governments minister in the government of Aigars Kalvitis (People’s Party), Stokenbergs insisted that the issue of Jewish pre-war properties had to be resolved.