Restitution faces resistance

  • 2011-01-26
  • From wire reports

RIGA - In a recent poll conducted by TNS Latvia, 60 percent of participants said that they disapprove of Latvia’s paying compensation to the Jewish community for real estate property confiscated during the Nazi occupation of Latvia in World War II, reports news agency LETA. Nineteen percent of those surveyed (between the ages of 18 and 55) support compensation for the Jewish community, with 6 percent of them responding with a definite “yes.”

Visiting U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson expressed his understanding of Latvia’s budget situation, before suggesting that Saeima should get further involved in discussions about restitution to the Jewish community. Davidson, after a meeting with Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) on Jan. 25, praised the successful cooperation between the government and Latvia’s Jewish community.
Davidson’s 2-day visit is to include discussion of restitution of Jewish communal and heirless property confiscated during World War II. The cost is estimated at 30 million lats (42.8 million euros).

The families of the Holocaust victims are awaiting compensation, and with the new budget approved, the Jewish community wishes to resume talks about the compensation, which were impossible during the previous government, said Foreign Minister Girts Kristovskis in an interview on Latvian State Radio.

Kristovskis added that the compensation is requested for various properties in Latvia that are not legally inherited - the Jewish organizations that existed in Latvia before the war were terminated during the Nazi occupation. “The truth is somewhere in between - we must evaluate every individual case step by step, and then we can decide on what to do with each property,” said Kristovskis, adding that the same compensation principles must apply to victims of all nationalities.
Since Jewish organizations were terminated during the Nazi occupation, the Jewish community could not claim restitution when the independence of Latvia was restored. This happened in the case of all such legal entities, regardless of the owners’ nationality.

Now that the Jewish community in Latvia has been restored, the United States wishes to support the dialogue between the government and the Jewish 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 returning is impossible, then, according to international standards, fair compensation must be agreed upon.

Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs considers that compensation needs to be paid to all victims of repression, not only to the Jewish community. On a Radio Latvia interview, he said that “we have to speak of all the victims - of fascism and communism - and all must then be paid compensation.”

Businessman Kirovs Lipmans finds this matter of restitution “a very painful issue.” He said to portal that he finds it unpleasant that this issue is being returned to every now and again. “I find it painful, since my whole family was shot and only I and my mother survived. Every time someone speaks about the confiscated property and compensation, these tragic memories are brought back. My family was very rich before World War II, and we had a lot of property, but I have never tried to reclaim it. We must carry on and achieve the highest goals that we have set for ourselves, and not fight for something that was achieved by our ancestors,” said Lipmans.

He noted that whenever this issue is on the agenda, there is too much negativity, society’s attitude toward the Jews turns negative.
Lipmans says that the government must put an end to this discussion and clearly state its opinion. Given that no decision was taken on restitution to the Jewish community previously, it is even less likely to happen now due to the economic crisis, he said.