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Holocaust Loot Put On 'Back Burner'

Kate Higgins, 3, of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., pets groundhog Sir Walter Wally, Thursday Feb. 2, 2006, after he saw his shadow during a ceremony at the Bicentennial Plaza in Raleigh, N.C., in front of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
AP Photo/Karen Tam
Holocaust victims didn't get back jewelry, art, and other property plundered by Nazi Germany because the United States and allies had "more pressing" things to deal with at the end of World War II, a U.S. report said Tuesday.

"Whether it was the need to rebuild shattered European economies, restore democracy to Germany, wage the Cold War...the interests of individual Holocaust victims suffered," said Edgar M. Bronfman, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

While the U.S. government "performed admirably" in trying to return looted property, the issue ended up on "the backburner," said the report by Bonfman's panel.

The report, the result of a massive two year research effort, was being presented to President Bill Clinton later.

The commission recommends creating a joint government and private foundation to do more work on restitution issues,

It also announced it has reached what it called "landmark agreements" with museums, the New York Bankers Association and the Library of Congress under which those organizations will try to identify assets they may still have belonging to Holocaust victims.

History still will say Adolf Hitler's forces in the 1930s and 1940s slaughtered 6 million Jews and 5 million others, enslaved 12 million and plundered Europe in one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

But an addendum written in the past several years also will show private organizations and governments worked in the late 1990s to "bring some measure of justice" to more than a million survivors, says Stuart Eizenstat, the top U.S. envoy on the Holocaust.

Compensation programs valued at billions of dollars have been negotiated in the past several years and may begin paying money this spring.

Eizenstat said the Bronfman panel report is "a searching self-analysis. It pulls no punches."

On Wednesday, Eizenstat wants to finish negotiating an Austrian plan to compensate for stolen Jewish property and on Thursday France's plan to pay for bank accounts confiscated during the wartime collaborationist Vichy regime.

All are part of an unprecedented half-decade campaign to re-examine what happened in the Holocaust and recalculate what's still owed its aging victims.

"It proved there's no statute of limitations on the violation of human rights," Eizenstat said in an interview. The Clinton administration ends Saturday and administration officials are urging President-elect George W. Bush to continue with Holocaust restitution.

Though a number of restitution programs were started right after the war they have since been judged to have left out categories of victims and categories of Holocaust abuses.

For instance, Central and Eastern European Christians soon are to receive compensation for having been used as forced laborers, in the first program of any substantial size to address the suffering of Hitler's non-Jewsh victims.

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