Jewish Journal

Restitution organizations

Posted on Jul. 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The propensity for Jewish organizations to have complicated names and frequently overlapping missions can be seen in the complex area of obtaining restitution for Holocaust-era crimes and looting of personal and communal possessions.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum lists 15 coalitions, commissions, conferences and other organizations currently active in this field. The following brief glossary offers information on three key ones:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference): Founded in 1951, the Claims Conference has concluded restitution agreements to provide more than $60 billion. The lion’s share of this money has come from the German government, supplemented by smaller amounts from Swiss banks, European insurance companies and the Austrian government.

World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO): Established by the World Jewish Congress in 1992, WJRO now includes 13 constituent organizations. Its mission is the return or compensate for Jewish communal or private property in 20 European countries of the former Soviet bloc, excluding Germany and Austria.

Project HEART (Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce): Formed in February 2011 and launched in May, HEART is backed by a grant from the Israeli government for more than $7 million over a three-year period. Its announced focus is to recover private Jewish property in all applicable countries (outside Germany and Austria).

HEART claims a database of 1.5 million entries on such property in the form of real estate, artworks, bank accounts, insurance policies and intellectual property.

Establishment of this new organization is widely seen as a move by Israel’s government to play a more prominent role in Holocaust restitution issues and as an implicit criticism of WJRO’s record in recovering private properties.

Bobby Brown, the Jerusalem-based executive director of HEART, and Anya Verkhovskaya, project director at the U.S. office in Milwaukee, however, told The Journal that HEART would collaborate with the two other organizations to “complement” their work. The Claims Conference, WJRO and HEART all receive support from the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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