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Hunt for Holocaust loot goes online

Visitors stand underneath pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem.Visitors stand underneath pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Photo: AMIR COHEN

THE first internet database of more than half a million pieces of property lost by Holocaust victims has gone online to begin another chapter of restitution.

After years of quiet diplomacy that accomplished little, organisers of the new project, financed by the Israeli government, said the idea was to use new technology in the struggle and to make as much noise as possible.

”This is an activist approach,” said Bobby Brown, executive director of the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, known as Project Heart. ”We believe there are no secrets any more about the Holocaust.”

Mr Brown said the idea of property restitution had to be pushed through Twitter and Facebook, although negotiations with countries where property was located ”do not have to be made public right away”.

The project, a non-profit global campaign of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental body, has set up offices in Milwaukee and Brussels.

This is the first worldwide list of property confiscated, looted or forcibly sold during the Holocaust era to be made available to survivors and their heirs. Compiled from hundreds of European archives, including tax records and voter registries, it includes real estate and land, moveable property such as art and jewellery, and intangible personal property such as stocks, bonds and savings accounts.

The project has already invited potential claimants to submit their details to the website, which is in 13 languages. Many of the properties in the database are listed with the names of the original owners, and sometimes their professions – information from the public records to help potential claimants find a match. About 650,000 pieces of property were uploaded this week, and Mr Brown hopes that the list will grow to a million by the end of the year.

Other Jewish organisations have also dealt with restitution. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has focused on Germany and Austria. The World Jewish Restitution Organisation was established in 1993 to focus on Eastern Europe after the collapse of the communist governments.

There has been progress in the issue of community-owned property but none on personal property, Mr Brown said.

About a third of the 750,000 Israelis who are retirement age are Holocaust survivors and many live in poverty.

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said the Holocaust ”was not only genocide but it was also the greatest theft in history”.

Associated Press

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