“We feel that this is a critical moment in the history of property restitution,” Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, told The Jewish Press last week, after returning from a weeklong trip to Europe.
Berman spent the waning days of January in Brussels, attending and speaking at an event marking the ascendancy of Belgium to the presidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research – which is being renamed the International Holocaust Remembrance Organization.
Berman sees the organization’s new name as significant in itself. “A task force sounds relatively temporary and ad hoc. Now, they’re formalizing the institution.”
What Berman is especially excited about, however, is the attitude he observed at a World Jewish Restitution Organization briefing that same week for members of the European Parliament, where he also spoke. “What I found remarkable is that they were listening – you should excuse me – to the mussar to really [get serious about restitution for Holocaust-era assets]. There were people from the EU that got up and really started talking tachlis.”
Berman said that while Germany has given close to $70 billion in restitution, Eastern European countries have been much slower to offer compensation. Two years ago, though, 46 countries gathered for the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets – a meeting that Berman now regards as a major turning point. “The mere fact that there’s going to be a meeting near the end of the year to see what results have come down the pike since [the Prague conference] gives us the feeling that now business is business…. That conference evidently is a real new demarcation point.”
He added: “Of course, if you ask me, ‘Well, does that mean the money is coming around the corner?’ we know the answer is no. We know Eastern European countries are still [going to plead] poverty and claim there’s too much money involved and that if we give the Jews, we have to give the others too. But we’re just going to have to keep pushing away. This is the new front.”