As one of its last acts as EU President, the Czech Republic held a Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague from June 26-30, 2009. Attended by 47 country delegations, 148 organizations, and a representative of the Holy See, the conference met, in part, to evaluate progress since the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets (http://www.holocausteraassets.eu/).
Secretary Clinton appointed Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat to head the distinguished 24-member U.S. Delegation. Clinton also appointed Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy, Head of the State Department’s Office of Holocaust Issues, as Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/06a/125167.htm).
Among the many conference events, five working groups (Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, Immovable Property (Private and Communal), Looted Art, Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property, and Special Session - Caring for Victims of Nazism and Their Legacy) presented expert panel presentations.
When all was said and done, 46 country delegations signed the Terezin Declaration, a non-binding commitment to further progress regarding: (1) the welfare of Holocaust survivors, (2) real property restitution or compensation, (3) the identification and protection of Jewish cemeteries and burial sites, (4) the resolution of claims for restitution of Nazi-confiscated and looted art and other cultural property, (5) Judaica and Jewish cultural property protection and claim resolution, (6) improved archival access, (7) education, remembrance, research, and memorial sites, and (8) the formation of the European Shoah Legacy Institute in Terezin (http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/or/126162.htm).
As a follow-up to the Prague EU Conference, the State Department held a Town Hall meeting on September 22, 2009. Emerging issues discussed included the creation of alternative mechanisms to fairly resolve Holocaust Era assets claims, including the possible formation of a national commission or panel, with representatives from the various stake holders, as well as scholars and other experts in the field. Such a commission might facilitate provenance and genealogical research as well as the informal analysis and resolution of such disputes, in an effort to avoid prolonged and expensive litigation. A Congressional hearing regarding these and other related matters is tentatively scheduled for October 29, 2009, under the leadership of Representative Robert Wexler, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe.
Visiting Scholar, Institute of European Studies
University of California, Berkeley