Summary of the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets*
(November 24, 1999)
On November 30-December 3, 1998, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum co-hosted the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets. Delegations from forty-four governments and thirteen non-governmental organizations participated. The conference addressed various issues related to the confiscation of assets by the Nazis and others during the Holocaust. The principal issues of the conference were looted art, insurance claims, communal property, and archives and books. The conference also examined the role of historical commissions and Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. Each of the main topics was addressed in a plenary session. These topics were then discussed in greater detail in a series of "break-out" sessions. The State Department has published the full proceedings of the conference.1
The opening ceremonies of the Washington Conference, on November 30, 1998, featured addresses by co-hosts Miles Lerman (Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council) and Stuart E. Eizenstat (Under-Secretary of State), Conference Chairman Abner J. Mikva, and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel. The opening plenary session on December 1 was highlighted by an address by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who set the tone for the conference by calling on participants to "chart a course for finishing the job of returning or providing compensation for stolen Holocaust assets to survivors and the families of Holocaust victims." This session also included a summary of the work of the recently concluded Tripartite Gold Commission (TGC) and of the International Fund for Needy Victims of Nazi Persecution, established in 1997 by the TGC. William J. McDonough, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which administers the Fund, noted that the approximately $60 million in the Fund at that time exceeded the amount of claims that had been submitted.
On December 1, there were two plenary sessions. The first, on Holocaust-era insurance claims, chaired by Ambassador Lyndon Olson2, featured presentations by representatives of the U.S. National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Allianz AG insurance company of Germany. The plenary session on Nazi-confiscated art was chaired by Rep. James A. Leach, Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services. It featured presentations by scholars, museum officials, and several European government officials. On December 2, a third plenary session combined separate overviews of two topics: Nazi-confiscated communal property, and archives, books, and historical commissions. The session on communal property was chaired by Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee. It featured presentations by Under-Secretary of State Eizenstat, representatives of major Jewish organizations, and an official of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. The session on archives, books, and historical commissions featured presentations by historians and archivists.
On December 2, there were detailed "break-out" sessions that ran concurrently on the main topics of each plenary session. Reps. Gilman and Leach chaired the break-out sessions on communal property and art, respectively. There was an additional break-out session on Holocaust education, remembrance, and research, presided over mainly by officials from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Commission and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
At the concluding plenary session on December 3, Under-Secretary Eizenstat and Conference Chairman Mikva summarized the work of the Conference, as follows:
1Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, November 30-December 3, 1999, Proceedings. Edited by J.D. Bindenagel, Conference Director, Department of State. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1999. This 1,146 page volume (which is also available on cd-rom) includes: the text of formal statements made by presenters, delegation statements submitted during or after the conference, position papers provided by delegations as part of the official record, interventions from the floor that were submitted in writing for purposes of publication, and other related documents.
3The Commission, created in October 1998, includes members drawn from U.S. and European insurance regulators and the World Jewish Congress. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger is the Commission chairman.
Source: Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for the U.S. House International Relations Committee.