The Holocaust-Era Assets Conference of June 2009 in Prague and the resulting Terezin Declaration endorsed by forty-seven countries reaffirmed the crying need for addressing issues surround the restitution and compensation of immovable and movable property, and Judaica. The murderous assault on European Jewry during the Holocaust included robbery on a massive scale. The seizure of Jewish property and the property of other victims by the Nazis and their allies was not an ephemeral, coincidental aspect of the Holocaust, but part of its essential driving force. While there have been positive steps relating to the restitution of both immovable and movable private and communal property seized from the Jews, progress … for the most part, has been slow at best. A substantial number of formerly Jewish-owned, real properties confiscated during the Holocaust era, especially in the countries of Central and East Europe have not been returned, nor has compensation been paid, to their rightful owners. Indeed, seven decades after the end of World War II and twenty five years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, an overwhelming portion of such confiscated property remains in the hands of governments (at some level) or local populations, protected by prevailing (or the absence of pertinent) national laws.
This description, unfortunately, continues to aptly depict the situation today. Put simply, in the years since the adoption of the Terezin Declaration and the Guidelines and Best Practices the conduct of East European states regarding Holocaust property seizures have been, regrettably, less than historic.
Legal claims by the heirs and descendants of Holocaust victims whose, property was stolen by the Nazis, have significantly contributed to the importance of provenance research as it relates to the due diligence and legality involved in identifying a rightful owner and supporting the victims’ claims.
The European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) strives to actualise the objectives of the Terezin Declaration through a variety of activities (including training workshops, international conferences, political negotiations, and research) relating to immovable property, looted art, and other cultural property illegally misappropriated during the Second World War. To ensure that appropriate international regard is paid to the importance of the ongoing development of provenance, ESLI has been engaged in the following activities: