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Status of Holocaust Victims Redress Act

S. 1564/P.L. 105-158, Holocaust Victims Redress Act

Summary.  Title I of this act directs the President to instruct the commissioner representing the United States on the Tripartite Commission for the Restitution of Monetary Gold to seek and vote for a timely agreement under which all signatories  to the Paris Agreement on Reparations with claims against the monetary gold pool in the Commission's jurisdiction contribute all or a substantial portion of such gold to charitable organizations to assist survivors of the Holocaust.  As an inducement to do so, it authorizes the President to obligate up to $30 million for such distribution (this sum represents the present value of the difference between what Congress originally authorized as compensation for the assets of heirless victims of the Holocaust either seized or frozen in the United States at the onset of World War II and the amount actually paid in 1962).  Of the $30 million authorized, $25 million is to go to organizations paying restitution to Holocaust victims, and $5 million for archival research to assist in the restitution of assets looted or extorted from victims of the Holocaust and such other activities that would further Holocaust remembrance and education.  Title II expresses the sense of the Congress that all governments undertake good faith efforts to return works of art confiscated from rightful owners during the period of Nazi rule.

Status.   Introduced by Senator D'Amato, November 13, 1997.  Signed into law (P.L. 105-158) February 13, 1998.

Analysis.  This legislation has multiple purposes.  First, it seeks to redress a perceived inequity in earlier Holocaust legislation.  Second, it both instructs the United States to work toward a speedy resolution of the claims some 15 countries have on a stock of gold seized from their central banks by the Nazis during World War II that is now under the control of the United States, Britain, and France, and urges these countries, once distribution is made, to use all or a substantial portion of this gold to aid Holocaust survivors.  Third, it expresses the sense of the Congress that all governments undertake good faith efforts to return works of art confiscated from rightful owners during the period of Nazi rule.

A brief discussion of history is necessary to understand the first goal of this legislation.  At the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. government seized German assets in the United States worth some $198 million and froze assets worth some $1.2 billion belonging to Swiss nationals and institutions.  Among both groups of asset holders were thought to be Jewish Holocaust victims or their beneficiaries.  After the war was over, Congress, recognizing that some of the victims of the Holocaust, whose assets were either seized or frozen, might not have had legal heirs,  enacted legislation authorizing the transfer of up to $3 million of such assets to organizations dedicated to providing relief and rehabilitation for Holocaust survivors. 

For a variety of reasons, it proved unworkable to transfer the $3 million as intended.  To fulfill the intent of the legislation, Congress in 1962 agreed to a lump-sum settlement and $500,000 was provided to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization of New York.  One purpose of Title 1 of the current bill is to recognize the moral claim of victims of the Holocaust to the unrestituted portion of the amount originally authorized in the immediate post-World War II legislation, $3 million, and the amount actually appropriated in 1962, $500,000.  It does so by authorizing the payment to Jewish relief organizations of the present value of the difference between these two sums.  The present value in this legislation is placed at a sum not to exceed $30 million.1

The payment of this sum is also related to the second goal of Title 1, which encourages certain foreign countries to behave in a similar fashion.  This goal concerns the final undistributed gold reserves of the central banks of 15 countries that were seized by the Nazis during World War II.  This gold (approximately 6 metric tons, worth about $58 million dollars in 1998), had been under the joint control of the United States, Britain, and France through the Trilateral Gold Commission (TGC), the post-war agency dealing with Nazi looted gold.2  This legislation calls for the United States to press for a speedy resolution of outstanding claims so that the gold can be distributed and urges the claimant nations to transfer all or a substantial part of what they receive to charitable organizations assisting survivors of the Holocaust.

After this legislation was enacted, these goals were largely achieved.  In December 1997, the TGC created the International Fund for Needy Victims of Nazi Persecution.  Most of the countries receiving gold from the TGC’s final (6 ton) distribution agreed to contribute the proceeds to the Fund.  The United States and several other countries that did not receive TGC gold have also contributed to the fund.

Title II expresses the sense of Congress that, consistent with the 1907 Hague Convention, all governments should undertake good faith efforts to return private and public property, including works of art, to the rightful owners in cases where assets were confiscated during Nazi rule and there is reasonable proof that the claimant is the rightful owner.  Currently, there are no reliable estimates of the number of artworks confiscated or of the market value of these works of art.

*Prepared by Gail E. Makinen, Specialist in Economic Policy, Government and Finance Division.

1The implicit nominal rate of interest by which $2.5 million in 1962 is translated into $30 million in 1998 is approximately 7.15%. The average rate of interest on U.S. Treasury securities over this 36-year period ranges from 6.27% (for 3-month securities) to 7.65% (for 10-year securities).  If inflation (as measured by the consumer price index) is taken into consideration, the real or inflation adjusted rate of interest by which $2.5 million is translated into $30 million is approximately 2.25%.

2Part of the impetus for this legislation came from the TGC-sponsored London Gold Conference of December 1997, where British Foreign Secretary Sir Robin Cook proposed the creation of the International Fund for Needy Victims of Nazi Persecution, to which the United States pledged an initial $4 million.

U.S. House International Relations Committee