MR BROWN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for this on-the-record briefing with the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Cherrie Daniels and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr. Special Envoy Daniels will brief on the public release of the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today – JUST Act – report, which assess progress on the restitution or compensation for property wrongfully seized during the Holocaust. In turn, Special Envoy Carr will discuss the administration’s efforts to address concerns related to anti-Semitism worldwide. As Secretary Pompeo has noted, we are proud of the Department of State’s work in these areas, and we will continue to make it a priority.
Our briefers will begin with short introductory remarks, then we’ll have time for your questions. As a reminder, the content of this briefing is embargoed until the end of the call. Also, if you want to go ahead and get into the queue, just dial 1 then 0. At this time, please go ahead, Special Envoy Daniels.
MS DANIELS: Thank you very much, Cale. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is announcing today that the Department of State has completed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act report, the JUST Act Report. This report has been transmitted to Congress and will be published on the State Department’s website immediately following the conclusion of this briefing. The JUST Act of 2017 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by President Trump in May of 2018. The law requires the department to submit a report to Congress on progress countries have made in implementing the commitments they undertook when they endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets.
Back in 2009, the U.S. Government negotiating team, led by Ambassador Stu Eizenstat, who’s hopefully listening in today, worked with the governments of 46 other countries who all committed themselves to actions in furtherance of the following shared principles:
One, to enable the identification and restitution of or compensation for immovable and movable property wrongfully seized or transferred during the Holocaust or subsequently nationalized during the communist era.
Two, to conduct provenance research and take other proactive steps to implement the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
Three, to appropriately commemorate and memorialize victims of the Holocaust and promote historically accurate Holocaust education programs. And I want to emphasize here on this point that countries’ efforts on this aspect of the Terezin Declaration are absolutely critical if we wish to ensure that future generations will understand not only what happened, but how it could have happened with the goal of preventing future such atrocities.
Four, to ensure access to archival documents necessary for the identification and restitution of or compensation for property.
And five, to do everything possible to ensure the welfare of remaining Holocaust survivors around the world, many of whom live at or near poverty and face increased home and health care needs as they age.
The Terezin Declaration called for fair and comprehensive claims processes that do not discriminate based on citizenship or residency and that are, and I quote, “expeditious, simple, accessible, transparent, and neither burdensome nor costly to the individual claimant.” In his forward to the JUST Act Report, Secretary Pompeo writes, “Much time has passed and the need for action is urgent. As we mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust this year, the legacy of the Nazis’ mass looting remains in too many places largely unaddressed.” He goes on to say, “Given the advanced age of Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in poverty, the findings of this report serve as a reminder that countries must act with a greater sense of urgency to provide restitution or compensation for the property wrongfully seized from victims of the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi persecution. All victims of the Nazi regime should be able to live out their remaining days in dignity,” he said. And then he concludes, “As Secretary of State, I will continue to prioritize this effort.”
I wanted to give a word on the process that we used. The JUST Act Report provides an overview of the actions taken in 46 countries over the course of more than 75 years. At the request of the special envoy for Holocaust issues, my predecessor Tom Yazdgerdi, U.S. embassies prepared the initial drafts of the country chapters in spring and summer 2019 based on information they painstakingly obtained from foreign government officials, community organizations, NGOs, academics, and others. When I succeeded Tom last August, my small but mighty team and I reviewed, fact-checked, collected, and analyzed additional information and consulted to the extent possible with domestic and international restitution experts and organizations, including academics, community leaders, and relevant government and NGO institutions.
I wanted to give a word on the timing. This report required extensive information gathering by our U.S. embassies and very thorough fact-checking to ensure the quality that we wanted and the accuracy of our information. In consultation with the JUST Act cosponsors, the Office of the Special Envoy also decided to expand the report to cover not only restitution and welfare issues but also all other aspects of the Terezin Declaration – that is to say Holocaust commemoration, archives and education, among other issues. We believe that this expansion of the report provides helpful context for congressional decision makers and others who will refer to the report. The exhaustive process that we ran and the comprehensive report that we provide reflect the importance the U.S. administration places on finding a measure of justice for Holocaust victims, survivors, and their heirs.
Let me address head-on the issue of the COVID situation. I want to add that we transmitted the report to Congress in March upon its completion. We had intended to release the report publicly concurrent with its transmittal to Congress; however, the public release was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted the JUST Act Report to receive the attention it deserves in order to underscore the important work undertaken in making these very important assessments.
What do we hope to achieve with this report? It’s intended to encourage reflection on best practices that might be employed to fulfill commitments countries freely took upon themselves by endorsing the Terezin Declaration.
Some key findings I wanted to emphasize here at the top: United States citizens are directly impacted by the efforts of the countries covered in this report with respect to their Terezin Declaration commitments. The United States is home to the second-largest population of Holocaust survivors in the world and to many heirs of Holocaust victims. Overall, the report is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It provides an objective account of what countries that endorsed the 2009 declaration have done to implement their commitments in the ensuing decade. While we found that some countries have done better than others in living up to their commitments, the report also underscores that all can do more to deliver a measure of justice 75 years after the end of the Holocaust. The restitution story of each country is unique, as the legislative track record of each country is also unique. The report notes that a handful of the countries that endorsed the declaration have yet to pass laws that facilitate the restitution of immovable property, and in countries that have adopted such legislation, too many claimants still face discrimination based on citizenship and residency or are otherwise unable to benefit due to overly complicated administrative barriers, all in contravention of the Terezin commitments.
The report notes that progress has been too slow overall with regard to provenance research and return of Nazi-confiscated and looted art. That’s the case in this country to some extent, despite advances that have been made, and also the case in many other countries covered who endorse the Terezin Declaration and the Washington Conference Principles.
A little bit about the – I’ll close on this – the United States record and the importance of Holocaust education. Although Congress did not mandate a review of U.S. laws and policies in the JUST Act, the research we did sheds light on our own nation’s achievements and challenges in living up to our Terezin Declaration commitments. In the year 2000, the U.S. played a crucial, working with Sweden and other countries, in creating what would later become the 34-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That leadership role that we have the United States’ responsibility to continue to educate the American public on the history and lessons of the Holocaust, and to promote such education globally as well. In that regard, I was so proud to know that the President signed into law on May 29th of this year the Never Again Education Act, which will increase resources available through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for teaching and learning within the United States about the Holocaust.
I want to just quote one bit that’s stated very eloquently in the law, the Never Again Education Act, and I quote: “As intolerance, antisemitism, and bigotry are promoted by hate groups, Holocaust education provides a context in which to learn about the danger of what can happen when hate goes unchallenged and there is indifference in the face of the oppression of others.”
With that, I’ll turn it over to Special Envoy Elan Carr and then we’ll take your questions.
MR CARR: Thank you all on this call, and thank you, Cale. Let me begin by thanking my friend and colleague Special Envoy Cherrie Daniels and her team for their remarkable work in compiling this thorough and important report. Special Envoy Daniels and I have different portfolios, but our work is inextricably linked. The Holocaust was the most horrific and destructive manifestation of anti-Semitism in the history of the world. Addressing the Holocaust fairly, both in terms of seeking justice for its victims and in terms of teaching its lessons today, is a key component of fighting anti-Semitism.
It’s been only 75 years since the Nazi crematoria have cooled, and yet, in our generation, we are witnessing an appalling rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world, and evidence of the link between addressing the legacy of the Holocaust and combating anti-Semitism today. The Terezin Declaration itself and the 47 countries that endorsed it recognized the rise in anti-Semitism and called on the international community to intensify our efforts to combat it. All of those countries endorsing the Terezin Declaration should be very proud to have assumed these important commitments. We cannot change history, but each of our countries can determine how we will respond to history and which policies we will embrace to ensure that our future will be far better than our past.
Thanks again, and I look forward to your questions.
MR BROWN: Just a reminder, if you want to ask a question, 1 then 0. Okay, for our first question can we go to the line of Jackson Richman?
QUESTION: Yes, hello, can you hear me?
MR BROWN: Very good sound. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. So a couple of questions. One, which countries have done a better job at providing for — providing reparations for Holocaust victims? And two, Poland has shown over time its reluctance to give reparations to Holocaust victims, so I was wondering if you could speak more about that, whether there’s been any progress between the U.S. and Poland in that regard, especially with the re-election of Duda.
MS DANIELS: Sure, I’ll take that one to start. Thank you, Jackson. The JUST Act Report very specifically does not single out any specific country or countries. It reviews in a straightforward, factual manner each country’s efforts in meeting its own commitments. For each country in all the 46 chapters, the report identifies areas where progress has been made as well as where further work is needed. So we hope that this will spur further progress, of course, as countries read through their own chapters and decide how best they can meet their own commitments.
On the topic of Poland, there is a chapter on Poland as with the other 45 countries covered, and we are, indeed, still having discussions with Poland. Poland is a sovereign country. They committed to this Terezin Declaration. They committed to the principles. They committed in doing so that they would take action on all of the areas that I mentioned at the beginning.
The report notes that Poland has made a serious commitment to Holocaust commemoration, that Poland’s work on Holocaust commemoration can be a guidepost to others, and that if we are – to – if we want to prevent such another atrocity, we have to remember the lessons of the Holocaust and combat historical revisionism as well as anti-Semitism.
The report notes that Poland provides financial support to Holocaust survivors from Poland wherever they reside in the world in the form of a monthly pension equivalent to that given to pensioners who live in Poland, and that sets a positive example for other countries.
But as you know, the JUST Act mandated a review of efforts to fulfill commitments on restitution or compensation for property in a number of categories, and these commitments are not reparations, it’s restitution or compensation for property that remains in Poland. Poland is the only European Union member state with significant Holocaust-era property issues that has not passed a national comprehensive private property restitution law. So I could go on, but that’s basically what I wanted to make about that.
There are no ranks. There’s no tiers. The report speaks for itself, and we really do hope that people read all the chapters in a comparative way before rushing to judgment.
MR BROWN: Great. For our next question can we go to the line of – let’s go to Reuters. Daphne, please.
QUESTION: Thanks for this. I’d just like to follow up on Poland. Is there any specific action that the U.S. would like to see Poland to take and take further steps? And is the U.S. suggesting any actions to punish them for not having legislated on property restitution? Thank you.
MS DANIELS: Thanks, Daphne. We do urge that the JUST Act Report be read carefully so that its purpose in providing an assessment on what each country has done to meet its own commitments is understood in the full context. We’ve gone to great lengths to produce a fair and accurate study, and, therefore, I wanted to just point that out – that part out.
Each of the countries covered in this report freely committed to making progress on the issues that we just – that I just outlined. It is up to each – it was a nonbinding declaration, and it is up to each endorsing country to decide how best to fulfill its Terezin Declaration commitments.
As the United States Government, we believe it’s in Poland’s interest to settle the issues once and for all. The Polish Government’s leadership in resolving these property restitution challenges or compensation challenges which have lingered for decades would underscore Poland’s role as an EU and a global leader.
And I want to say also that on a very practical level, resolving restitution or compensation of property claims that are hanging out there all of these years would facilitate economic development, and especially in cases where real estate ownership is unclear or contested throughout these decades as a result of Nazi or subsequent Communist-era confiscations and nationalizations.
So there are no sanctions associated with the act. It’s up to Congress what it does with the information we provided. We’ve provided what we thought is very straightforward, very fair, and very data-driven information that can guide their decisions.
MR BROWN: Great. For our next question let’s go to the line of Eldad Beck.
QUESTION: I suppose that’s me. My name is Eldad Beck. I am from Israel Hayom. I would have two questions. I would like to know the situation in Germany and Austria. And secondly, since we are mainly dealing with European Union countries, is there any thought about making this issue a whole European thing, especially as there are some countries who are in very difficult financial situation, while as the EU seems to have enough money to solve this problem?
MS DANIELS: Thank you (inaudible). Germany and Austria, of course, have a significant and very long history on this issue dating back to during and after the war. Our chapter cannot go into every single thing that they’ve ever done for Holocaust survivors or other victims of Nazi persecution. But I can say that responsibility for restitution of or compensation for immovable property wrongfully seized or subsequently nationalized rests with the government on whose sovereign territory the property is located. So from 1945 to 2018, the German Government paid approximately $86.8 billion in restitution and compensation to Holocaust victims and their heirs around the world and to victims of Nazi persecution.
The U.S. Government has for many years engaged with Germany on behalf of victims. For example, it was the United States that negotiated and concluded a slave and forced labor agreement with Germany in July 2000, under which the German Government and private sector companies paid a $5 billion settlement that included individual payments to each surviving victim of forced labor. And I want to emphasize that an overwhelming majority of those victims of forced labor were non-Jewish laborers from a variety of countries in Eastern Europe. So that’s on Germany, and I could go on to greater extent, but I think the way we just did that information in the Germany chapter will speak for itself.
With regard to Austria, it’s also had – taken action immediately after World War II and in the years that followed to do a number of different settlements, again negotiated in part by the United States and Stu Eizenstat and those that came after him in this position that he helped create, the special envoy’s position. So I would call your attention to those.
As for the EU taking on the issue, I know that the European Union – both Elan and I deal with our counterparts in the European Union – we’re very closely tracking this particular issue. But as I mentioned, it’s the individual countries on whose territory the immovable property is who have a responsibility to do something. And they don’t have to do everything, they can’t do everything, but they can’t do nothing, and they certainly can do more than they have. So I just want to point for the countries that have more to do, there is a way to do this.
MR BROWN: Super. A reminder if you want to ask a question, just dial 1 and then 0 to get into the queue.
Last person in the queue right now is Pearl Matibe.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much for being available. The information is certainly appreciated. I wonder, year over year, since your last report, do you have any – maybe one to two or three things that you can point out as things that stand out between – for any country in particular that you noticed as either particularly successful or particular challenges? Thanks.
MS DANIELS: Thank you, Pearl. So this is a – so far, it was passed – the law was passed in 2018 – or, sorry, signed into law in 2018 as a one-time report, and there’s language at the end saying as soon as we provide this one-time report we’re supposed to go back to reporting in our usual channel to Congress on these issues as we have all throughout the years. So I don’t have any baseline to compare it to, but I can tell you what’s been significant in recent years.
I’d like to point out a couple of things which we mentioned also in the executive summary, which gives a really good gist of what’s a very long and complex report. One is that the JUST Act is a summary of the actions taken in all of these countries, and it – we start from the beginning of the Holocaust through the end of December – sorry, through December 5, 2019, and that’s an important date because that’s the date that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted – 34 countries – adopted recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust. We translated it into all the languages of those 34 countries. So that’s significant, something we point out as a great step forward.
In terms of individual countries, I can tell you, as we’ve stated in the executive summary, that the only country that’s adopted legislation on dealing with heirless and unclaimed property from the Holocaust era since the Terezin Declaration – so the only country that followed through on that particular aspect and hadn’t done so before and did so now was Serbia. So there is a – there are examples pointed out in the report of good things that have happened. There are also interesting examples about other countries, of steps they’ve taken on archives, to open archives and have new agreements with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or Yad Vashem.
And then in terms of people we’ve been tracking, we point out areas in certain countries where that legislation was possible, was put forward, and then retracted. So, I mean, just to name a couple of examples, you had Poland in 2017 put forward and retract legislation, you had Croatia put forward amendments that could have improved the situation in 2011, I believe, or later, and then retracted without adopting, and then Latvia in, I think, 2019 perhaps put forward something and then retracted.
So we list those examples, and countries are – it’s up to them. How are they going to meet this commitment? They made the commitment; they can find a way to do better on those commitments if they believe that they can. And we want – we’re here to help them do that.
MR BROWN: Okay. Let’s pause for a second if anyone else wants to jump in the queue. We’ve got time for one or two more.
MR BROWN: Okay. Not seeing anyone else in the queue, I want to thank our briefers for joining us today and for all the work that went into preparing this work. Thank you once again for those who joined the call. I appreciate you taking time out today. As this is the end of the call, the embargo on the contents is lifted. Have a great day.