Presentation of the official delegation of the Czech Republic at the Vilnius Forum
Pavel Rychetsky, Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
3-5 October 2000
The Czech Republic sent an official delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
Mr. President, Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Some of the processes that take place in a human soul may seem to us as taking place independently of our will and if we do become aware of them, we attribute them to some kind of a higher force. The strongest human instinct that functions as such a higher force is the instinct of self-preservation. Each of us may be confronted with tragic, unfavourable or simply unpleasant situations and even though we make no conscious effort, our inner self-defensive mechanisms start functioning. The events that are unpleasant or emotionally so strong that they directly threaten our psyche, trigger off a mechanism of instinctive ejection of reality and accelerated forgetting. A person can thus survive facts too horrifying to be survived but only at the cost of denying the reality or at least mercifully obscuring it. This special - sometimes apparently beneficial - mechanism of ejecting reality from the consciousness enables an individual to survive at the cost of distorted perception of reality or at the cost of false ignorance. However, if this process is adopted by a whole community of people, it ceases to be a process of subconscious ejection of memory and becomes a conscious process of collective forgery of our history that may be best described as a murder of our that is human history.
We witnessed a similar process after the World War II when the euphoria over the victory of democratic forces concealed for many years even the horrors and atrocities of nazism and its most perverted expression - the Holocaust. In the course of Nazi occupation 67 000 of our Jewish brothers and sisters were taken from Czech Lands to their deaths in extermination camps while their respected fellow-citizens did not manage to raise any kind of protest not to speak of resistance. And then we, together with most European nations, witnessed for the whole decades the oblivion of our own disgrace.
In the middle of 1998, immediately after its appointment, the current Czech Republic government has decided to join actively the European or perhaps global efforts to define fully and precisely the phenomenon of Holocaust, what it meant for our nation and how was this festival of atrocities and terror organized in our country.
In the Government Programme Declaration we took upon the obligation to settle all property claims raised by individuals as well as by Jewish communities that had not been settled by previous governments.
In October 1998 the government established Joint Working Commission, which I have the honour to chair, with the objective to mitigate some property injuries inflicted upon the Holocaust victims in our country. The members of the Joint Commission are government ministers or their deputies, representatives of the President´s Office, Czech Cadaster and Land Surveyor´s Office as well as the representatives of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Restitution Organisation. The Commission works in three Sections, the first of which, the Section for the assessment of legal dimensions of redressing Holocaust, was to assess the existing law and propose potencial changes so that the restitution of property expropriated for racial reasons could be completed. This Section completed its work already at the beginning of this year by proposing an Act on Mitigation of some property injuries caused by Holocaust that came into force on July 27th, 2000. This Act returns to Jewish Communities all the property that had been confiscated to Jewish legal entities (religious communities, associations and foundations) by Nazi occupation authorities, in case the property was not restituted already during the first postwar years and if it still physically exists. The Act applies also to physical persons, the victims of Holocaust themselves or their descendants. It enables the state to complete not only the restitution of immovable property but includes also a clause subject to which these persons - disregarding their current domicile - shall be restituted the works of art confiscated by the Nazi regime, if they are deposited in our state collection funds.
Through the work of this Section altogether 2 500 such works of art were found in the National Gallery as well as in other state galleries and museums. Their list will be made public on internet and the original owners or their descendats will be able to apply for their return. At the same time we have addressed 115 non-goverment museums and galleries with the request to act analogically.
Another significant success of our government is the fact that following the recommendation of the Joint Commission we have set aside from the state resources the sum of 300 million K? that has been recently transfered to the account of a newly established foundation "For Holocaust Victims". The Foundation was established by the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities and the deposited funds will serve to pay out compensation to physical persons for the property that cannot be physically restituted as well as to provide financial contribution to Holocaust survivors for social and health care. The funds of the Foundation will also serve for the reconstruction, renewal and preservation of Jewish monuments on the territory of the Czech Republic as well as for the support of educational projects in the field of Judaism and the projects aiming at dignified and permanent memorial of Holocaust victims.
The second Section - Section for the assessment of immovable property issues - is exclusively devoted to the search of immovable property that was confiscated during the World War II by Nazi occupation authorities from Jewish Communities, foundations and associations. The list includes data of some 1 300 real estate premises, of which 431 are already in the ownership of the Federation of Jewish Communities, 122 are owned by the state, 232 are registered as municipal or communal property and the rest are either privately owned or they have not been yet identified.
The third Section - Section for the listing of property injuries on the territory of the Czech Republic - has the hardest task, to track the fate of valuables, art collections, insurance policies as well as other types of property confiscated from those who were sent by Nazis to their deaths - to extermination camps. This Section has detected in the National Gallery collections 66 works of art whose original owners or descendants, however, are not alive for they had not survived the Holocaust. The government has already decided that these paintings shall be transfered to the ownership of the Prague Jewish Museum.
An important output of this Section´s activity is so called "Report on Jewish Gold" and other precious metals and stones. So far it has been established that the German occupation authoritiesconfiscated from our Jewish fellow citizens 615 kgs of pure gold, 5.5 kgs of platinum, 16.7 tons of silver and approximately 5130 carats of diamonds and 580 carats of diamond rhombs. This report has already been presented not only in the Czech Republic but also in other countries (Russia, Germany, Switzerland, U.S.A. - Brooklyn Court, Walker Commission). It comes out that more than 90% of the confiscated "Jewish gold" was transported abroad, particularly to Germany, Portugal or Switzerland. We also already know that 397 kgs of this gold was taken to Russia as "war booty".
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to emphasize in this context that Czech government is convinced that the instigator and executor of the horrors of Holocaust in our country were the Nazi occupation authorities and the Czech Republic as well as its citizens, particularly members of Jewish community, were victims to this atrocious process. However, we must not forget one indelible stain on our own history. The participation of the Czech protectorate police in the genocide of Roma population during the Nazi occupation. Only 300 persons of the original population of 6 500 "protectorate Romas" escaped imprisonment. The others became subject to ruthless detention in the camps of forced concentration where more than 3 000 Roma men, women and children found their death. The rest was mostly transported to Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, etc. and after the liberation less than 800 of these former prisoners returned to their country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, To conclude, I would like to remember the words of the Roman historian TACITUS who said almost two thousand years ago: "The crime that has been detected has no other recourse but impudence." Let us do all we can so that his thesis hold true for ever.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).