When Luxembourg assumed the chairmanship of the world’s foremost international Holocaust remembrance task force, its government pledged energetic action.
“We have to act. We have to mobilise. We have to go against” revisionism and indifference, George Santer, Luxembourg’s ambassador to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, said in a statement about his country’s assumption of the rotating chairmanship of that task force of 32 nations.
Nearly two months on, though, Luxembourg still makes it harder than any other Western European nation for Jews to reclaim property and assets lost under the Nazis.
Critics say the country’s laws make even applying for restitution impossible for most of the Jews who had lived there during World War II and their descendants.
The controversy is rooted in a 1950 law that restricts restitution eligibility to citizens and some “stateless persons” who immigrated to the tiny country prior to 1931. Unique in the continent’s west, Luxembourg’s restitution law excludes about 75 percent of roughly 4,000 Jews who had lived there before the Nazi invasion of 1940.
“This law is certainly unusual among Luxembourg’s neighbours,” said Vincent Artuso, a Paris-based historian.
In 2015, Artuso published a damning report on the collaboration of Luxembourg’s authorities with the Nazis. Whereas other Western European nations reformed their restitution laws by the 1990s, “Luxembourg’s remained the same,” he said.
This means that Luxembourg “is the only country in Western Europe with major, unaddressed restitution issues,” according to Gideon Taylor, the chair of operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation.
At stake are hundreds of real estate properties in Luxembourg City, one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals and expensive cities. But even that may be dwarfed by the money locked in dormant or stolen funds lost in Luxembourg’s opaque banking sector — the leading industry in this nation of 500,000.
For now, the restitution issue is “an ongoing injustice,” according to Karin Meyer, a member of Luxembourg’s Jewish community whose open letter last year to her government triggered a parliamentary query. It did not result in change, as the government reiterated its position against reform. But it focused the attention of local media on the problem.
Artuso said the amount of money stolen from Jews and absorbed into Luxembourg’s national wealth is unknown “because there is no political will to find out.” Luxembourg’s 1950 law seems to have been designed specifically to bar refugees from seeking restitution, he said.
Specifically the stipulation that bars people who came to Luxembourg after 1930 from seeking restitution “speaks for itself,” Artuso said.
Predating Adolf Hitler’s rise to power by two years, it excludes at least 2,000 Jews who fled to Luxembourg after 1933, doubling the country’s Jewish population.
Trailing most other Western European nations by about two decades, Luxembourg in 2015 finally apologised officially for its authorities’ collaboration in rounding up Jews to be murdered.
It was part of a broader change that followed the formation in 2013 of a left-leaning coalition headed by Prime Minister Bettel, “and there was a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and speak the truth on the Holocaust,” the historian Artuso said.
But, over time, “it became apparent that the good will extended to saying the right thing,” he said. “It was not enough to carry over into action and material compensation.”