Belgium approves Holocaust restitution

Gov't, country's banks agree to pay $170 m. to survivors, families of victims, Jewish community.

Auschwitz 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Auschwitz 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Belgian government and banks agreed on Tuesday to pay €110 million ($170 million) to Holocaust survivors, families of victims and the Jewish community for their material losses during Word War II. Campaigners welcomed the decision to compensate those whose property and goods in Belgium had been looted by Nazi occupiers. Belgium is facing 5,210 outstanding claims for restitution stemming from the Holocaust. From those, 162 amount to over €20,000 ($30,000). Overall, €35.2 million ($54 million) will be paid to individual claimants with the rest going to a Jewish trust which will help the poor and keep the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust alive. Some 50,000 Jews lived in Belgium in the 1930s and about half were exterminated in the Holocaust. Last year, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized for Belgian authorities' involvement in the deportation of Jews to Nazi extermination camps. After the Nazi invasion in May 1940, the Belgian government fled to Britain, but issued instructions authorizing civil servants who stayed to work with the Nazis to keep services running and prevent the economic breakdown that occurred during the German occupation in WWI. During the war, that often led to Belgian officials collaborating with the persecution of Jews, although the resistance movement was also strong in Belgium and underground networks set up to save Jews were more successful than in many occupied nations. "In a certain way, justice has been done. Unfortunately there are people who never came back" from the Nazi death camps, said Eli Ringer, the co-chair of the committee on the restitution of Jewish assets. "The nice thing is that the rest of the money, about €60 million ($90 million), will go in a trust for the Jewish community in order to help needy people, in order to remember the Shoah," Ringer said. "So this money will be for the Jewish community and will help us to bring people to Auschwitz, (pay for) education, etc. This is very, very important to us," Ringer told Associated Press Television News. Of the total restitution payout, €45.5 million ($69.8 million) will come from the Belgian authorities, and €55 million ($85 million) from banks. Most of the remainder came from insurance companies.