The Joint Committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, was set up in November 1998, shortly before the International Conference on Holocaust-era Assets was held in December that year. Its aim was to diminish some of the injustices committed by the Nazis and never addressed by the Communist regime. Among the members of the committee were representatives of the Czech Jewish community and also dr. Avi Beker of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation and Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee. Mr Baker looks back on the Joint Committee's work.
"What is taking place here with this commission was trying to address both in terms of a framework and in making practical advances a set of issues that have been left unaddressed that concerned compensation to individuals, restitution of communal properties, the return of works of art both, I think, looking back now, in establishing a framework under which these issues can be addressed. Having had the possibility of seeing progress made in each of these areas we would conclude that clearly this effort undertaken by the Czech government and spearheaded by the Deputy Prime Minister represents and example for other countries as well in dealing with this problem."
Among other things, the Committee prepared legislation on compensation for Holocaust victims, provided a record of about 7,000 works of art looted from Jewish citizens by the Nazis and issued a publication about the fate of Jewish gold and other precious metals and stones in the Czech Lands during WWII. The Committee also initiated the establishment of the Endowment Fund for the compensation of Holocaust victims for which the Czech Parliament allocated 300 million CZK or 8 million US dollars. Recently, the Czech Republic received sharp criticism mainly from Austria for alleged insufficient compensation for Holocaust victims. Avi Beker of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation dismissed this criticism with uncompromising words.
"Many Austrians for many years lived under the myth that they were the first victim of Nazi Germany. We know very well that many Austrians were part and parcel of the Nazi killing machinery and I think Austria also has to confront this. They started working on it but I would call on them to establish a commission which would investigate this field of restitution more thoroughly than it was done so far."
How does Mr Beker see the future of property returns in the Czech Republic after the Committee is disbanded?
"We regard the work of this commission as important but still unfinished business. And this is why we would like the work of the foundation - which will continue - to have a link with the government and we will be able to come back, to report and also re-evaluate some of the recommendations."
The end of the Committee's work does not mean the end of compensation for victims of Nazi-era property crimes in the Czech Republic. The Endowment Fund will carry on and the Czech government will continue returning property to the Jewish community.
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