President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill which aims to pressure European governments to return property stolen from Holocaust victims, an action which may raise some ire with some governments abroad.
According to the Associated Press, Trump signed the JUST (Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today) Act on Wednesday. The bipartisan bill — introduced by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the Senate and Republican Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York and Democratic Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey in the House — is designed to put pressure on European nations that have been slow to offer restitution to Holocaust victims and their families under a 2009 agreement on property seized by the Nazis or collaborationist regimes during World War II.
The act would compel the State Department to issue a report calling out nations that weren’t complying with the agreement.
“For covered countries, the Secretary of State shall annually include within either the relevant Annual Country Report on Human Rights, the International Religious Freedom Report, or other appropriate report as determined by the Secretary, an assessment and description of the nature and extent of national laws or enforceable policies regarding the identification and the return of or restitution for wrongfully seized or transferred Holocaust era assets and compliance with or progress toward the goals and objectives of the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues,” the bill reads.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization, an Israeli non-government organization, praised the president for signing the bill, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“This is a powerful statement of America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in their quest for justice,” said Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, in the wake of the bill’s signing.
“We thank President Trump for supporting the bill, as well as the U.S. Congress for passing it unanimously. We extend our utmost gratitude to Senators Baldwin and Rubio and Representatives Crowley and Smith, for their heartfelt leadership on this issue.”
While you might think that such a bill would be pretty uncontroversial, there are actually a few European nations — some of which are NATO members, at that — in which the enacting of the JUST Act will ruffle some feathers.
Hungary hasn’t returned Jewish property that was left heirless or unclaimed after World War II, despite a 1993 ruling by the nation’s top court directing the government to return it to the Jewish community. Latvia still hasn’t returned communal properties like schools and synagogues which were seized during the war. Croatia and Slovenia don’t allow property seized during the war to be returned to non-citizens.
However, Warsaw is probably the European capital in which there will be the loudest hue and cry at Trump’s decision to sign the JUST Act into law. As The New York Times reported in 2017, Poland is still the only European Union member that doesn’t have a formal process for the restitution of property seized by the Nazis during World War II.
Hania Rosenberg, 82 at the time of the piece, talked about how her family “had a three-story house and a general store, farmland and two garden plots” in a southern Polish town before they fled to Sweden during the war. That land was later expropriated by the communist government there after World War II.
A shopping mall sits on most of the land that was taken from her parents, but two garden plots still remain — garden plots that Rosenberg has been unable to get back despite providing what she says is reams of evidence to the Polish government.
“In Poland, there was no official process for this: You have to go to the courts,” she told The Times.
“We did go to the courts, but it was like a carousel: You go around and around and around and around. You have to produce the documents that they need, and then it’s not enough. There are always more documents you need to provide.”
Survivors of or refugees from the Holocaust aren’t young anymore. At the very least, they deserve to see some justice for what was taken from their families. If the bill Trump just signed makes some European nations squirm, good. It’s past time that happened.
Justice delayed is justice denied, and both Holocaust victims and the Jewish community have been waiting more than 60 years for justice. Now, it’s time to demand it.
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