Lithuanian parliament approves compensation for confiscated property

Lithuania’s parliament has agreed to pay $52 million over 10 years in compensation for properties confiscated from the country’s Jewish community by the Nazis and by Soviet authorities.

The bill was passed by the parliament on Tuesday and still must be signed into law by the president.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius praised the action in a radio interview, calling it a demonstration of goodwill and of “understanding of the tragedy the Jewish community suffered during the Holocaust,” Reuters reported.

The properties in question are currently in the hands of the Lithuanian government.

Lithuanian Jewish organizations have been pushing for compensation since 2002; they received support from Jewish organizations abroad as well.

According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Lithuania’s pre-war Jewish population was about 160,000, some 7 percent of the country’s total population. Lithuanian Jewry was nearly wiped out during the Holocaust, and Lithuanian perpetrators as well as German killing squads were key to the genocide.

Today’s bill was supported by 81 of 141 legislators; 8 abstained.

Reportedly, the government would begin paying into a special compensation fund starting next year. The funds will be used in part to restore Jewish heritage sites. In addition, $1.25 million would be paid directly to Holocaust survivors next year.

Faina Kukliansky, deputy chair of Lithuania’s approximately 3,000-member Jewish community, told Reuters that the spirit of the bill was more important than the amount.

“This is what the state can afford at this stage,” she said.

The American Jewish Committee, which supported the Lithuanian Jewish community in its quest for compensation, greeted the bill as “a hard fought victory.”

Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s director of international Jewish affairs, said that delays were largely due to concerns over domestic politics and nervousness about a populist, anti-Semitic backlash.

Baker cited the efforts of U.S. Ambassador Anne Derse and her predecessors as instrumental in winning over Lithuania’s legislators.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said that the law offered “a small measure of justice.”

“While the amount which will be paid over the next decade represents only a small fraction of the value of the communal and religious property which was owned by the Jewish community prior to World War II, the passage of the law is historic, reflecting the Lithuanian government’s recognition of its moral obligation to return or provide compensation for stolen Jewish property,” the WJRO said in a statement.

The parliament’s move comes days before the visit to Vilnius of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the meeting for foreign ministers of the Community of Democracies, over which Lithuania is presiding.