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Holocaust Restitution: Introduction and Overview of Materials in This Study

(November 24, 1999)

It is widely recognized that Nazi Germany’s genocidal campaign to annihilate the Jewish people was one of the most horrible crimes against humanity in history.  Less well known is the fact that the looting of assets, personal and communal, of Holocaust victims constitutes one of the greatest thefts in history.  This study provides a broad overview of the history of and issues surrounding looted Jewish Holocaust-era assets. The study does not provide an analysis of the Holocaust itself, and discusses the persecution and killing of Jews primarily as the context for the seizure of their assets.  Consideration of the assets of other classes of Nazi victims, such as Romani (Gypsies) and homosexuals, is outside the scope of this study.  The study also does not address the issues of forced and slave labor, which are generally considered to be distinct from asset issues.

The study includes: an overview of two recent major international conferences on Holocaust-era assets; a review of two major Holocaust-related U.S. laws; and  reviews of the issues connected with Holocaust victims’ accounts in Swiss banks and Holocaust victims’ insurance claims.  The study includes a survey of 31 countries, covering: the history of the seizure or transfer of Holocaust-era assets,  including looted art; the restitution programs and the legislation dealing with restitution and its implementation; the work of national Holocaust-related historical commissions; and the accessibility of archives.  The study addresses the issue of books acquired by the Library of Congress  in Germany after the war, some of which may have been seized by the Nazis from Holocaust victims.  The study also includes a legislative history of Holocaust-related U.S. legislation since 1995, a comprehensive list of internet web sites of relevant organizations, and information on how to obtain application forms in order to file restitution or compensation claims.

The country surveys generally include two components.  International legal analysts from the Law Library of the Library of Congress wrote one set of components examining the country’s legislation related to restitution of Holocaust-era assets and the implementation of that legislation.1  This analysis requires skills unique to the Law Library and was subject to the Law Library’s own review process.  The other set of components, done mainly by the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division of CRS, examines other Holocaust asset topics.  The paired components for each country, though produced independently, are complementary.

1The Law Library provided contributions for 25 of the 31 countries surveyed.  The Law Library at this time does not have legal specialists covering Albania, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, or Turkey

Source: Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for the U.S. House International Relations Committee.