Saeima approves 40 million euro Jewish restitution law

On Thursday, February 10, the Latvian Saeima passed a law on restitution payments to the Latvian Jewish community in its final reading. The law passed by 64 votes to 21.

"The new law has been adopted to eliminate the historically unjust consequences that arose as a result of the Holocaust implemented by the Nazi totalitarian regime and the activities of the Soviet communist totalitarian regime in the territory of Latvia," a release from the Saeima press service said.

Before the Second World War, Jewish religious organizations, the community and its members owned schools, orphanages, hospitals, and culture centers. During the occupation by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945, approximately 75,000 Jews – Latvian citizens – were murdered in Latvia. 

Annotations to the law emphasize that the Republic of Latvia was not to blame for the deprivation of Jewish property and the Holocaust, but it would be ethical and fair for the restored state to compensate the Latvian Jewish community for real estate losses.

In total, the illegal appropriation of real estate from the Jewish community was calculated to be worth more than 47 million euros, based on the property belonging to the Jewish community on June 16, 1940 (the date of Soviet attacks on Latvian border posts and a Moscow ultimatum that effectively marked the start of three consecutive periods of occupation by Soviet, the Nazi, then Soviet forces again).

The law stipulates that the amount of the reimbursement will be 40 million euros, paid at a rate of 4 million euros per year. Payments will start in 2023 and be completed by the end of 2032.

Reimbursement will be used only for the purposes and measures specified by law in Latvia, as well as for the provision of social and material assistance to those victims of the Holocaust who live outside Latvia. The Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund may use the allocated funds to finance such events and projects in Latvia that are related to religion, culture, education, science, health care, history, sports, charity, and the restoration and preservation of the Latvian Jewish cultural and historical heritage. It includes the maintenance and improvement of Holocaust memorial sites at Biķernieki, Dreiliņi, Rumbula, Mežaparks, Šķēde, Daugavpils and other places.

The money will also be used to support the work of organizations belonging to the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia, to promote the integration, unity and development of civil society in Latvia, as well as to manage the property of the Jewish community and the foundation.

"With this law, the compensation of the Latvian Jewish community will be final, and thus any other claim rights of the Latvian Jewish community and the Riga Jewish Religious Congregation for the expropriated real estate will be terminated," the Saeima release said.

Compensation for the Jewish community has been discussed in the Saeima for 15 years, but until now has not been resolved, despite repeated pressure from U.S. and Israeli officials to do so. 

Thursday's decision won swift recognition from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

 

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