Legislators representing 18 nations have called on the European Union to increase its focus on Holocaust restitution.
Writing to European Parliament President Martin Schulz, the MEPs asserted that European parliament members “bear a particular moral responsibility to promote the restitution of property unjustly taken during the Holocaust and its aftermath, as well as to advocate for the social welfare of aging survivors and the enduring remembrance of the Holocaust.”
The group, calling itself the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors, sent the letter in conjunction with the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
“We appreciate the wide-ranging European support for an increased focus on unresolved Holocaust-era issues,” said Gideon Taylor, World Jewish Restitution Organization chairman of operations. “We look forward to seeing an ongoing leadership role and meaningful outcomes by the MEPs comprising the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors.”
“My colleagues and I are proud to lead this coalition to ensure that the European Parliament focuses on resolving issues impacting Holocaust victims with no further delay,” said Gunnar Hökmark (EPP, Sweden), chairman of the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors. “We look forward to the European Parliament giving greater attention to this issue.”
“We must commit, both as individual member-states and as a collective forum of nations, to meeting our responsibilities to the victims of the Holocaust,” said Monika Flasikova Benova (S&D, Slovakia), co-chairwoman of the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors.
“As democratic nations, it is essential that we seek justice for those who have suffered and lost so much.”
They also asked that Schulz appoint a European parliamentary vice president to deal with Holocaust survivor issues.
Several EU members, including Poland and Austria, have come under fire for their records on the return of looted property.
Austria recently jailed a Jewish restitution advocate for one year on charges he defrauded the Austrian government by failing to list the name of an aunt on a restitution claim for a building the Nazis stole from his extended family.
According to prosecutors, Stephan Templ, the author of Unser Wien (Our Vienna), which cataloged sites around the city that once belonged to Jews, “damaged the Republic of Austria” by neglecting to list the name of his mother’s estranged sister Elisabeth Kretschmar on his claim.
“As scholars who have written or taught about the Holocaust or other genocides, we are deeply troubled by the impending imprisonment of an Austrian Jewish historian and journalist who exposed Austria’s failure to return Jewish property seized during the Nazi era,” more than 70 historians wrote in a protest letter.
“The crime of which Mr. Templ has been convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison, was his omission of the name of an estranged relative from his application for the return of his family’s seized property. This matter could have been resolved by the Templ family in civil court.
“The Austrian government’s decision to intervene by prosecuting and jailing Mr. Templ will be seen as an extreme overreaction to Mr. Templ’s important book, Our Vienna: Aryanization Austrian- Style, which criticized Austria’s policy concerning the restitution of Jewish property.”