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S. 447: Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017

A bill which just passed the Senate and House could help spur the return of lost money, assets, and property taken by Hitler and the Nazis.

Context

As of a decade ago, less than 20 percent of assets stolen from Jews by the Nazis had been rightfully returned or restored.

Although there are fewer living Holocaust survivors by the day, currently estimated at less than 100,000, that still leaves tens of thousands of people who potentially seek financial restitution for duly-owned property or money that was lost.

What the bill does

The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act would mandate the State Department report on the progress of European nations in either returning or paying restitution for stolen property or assets from Holocaust victims in the 1930s and 1940s.

The report is to contain findings on “the return to the rightful owner of any property, including religious or communal property, that was wrongfully seized or transferred” and “the extent to which such laws and policies are implemented and enforced in practice, including through any applicable administrative or judicial processes.”

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as S. 447, and in the House by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY14) as H.R. 1226.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill could help bring a level of closure after what has been in some cases seven decades or more of unaccounted-for thefts.

“We’re taking bipartisan action to ensure justice, which has been put off for far too long,” Senate lead sponsor Baldwin said in a press release. “Tragically, we are losing survivors every day, and it is my sincere hope that this legislation, by shining a spotlight and solidifying this issue as an American foreign policy priority, will spur action in countries that are falling short of their obligations, ultimately resulting in a measure of justice for these individuals who have waited far too long.”

Votes

The bill passed the Senate in December 2017 by a “unanimous consent” voice vote, meaning no record of individual votes was made due to a lack of meaningful opposition. The bill had first attracted a bipartisan 21 Senate cosponsors: 12 Democrats and nine Republicans.

It then passed the House in April through an identical voice vote. The bill had first attracted a bipartisan nine House cosponsors: eight Democrats and one Republican. (It’s unusual for a bill to achieve more than double the number of Senate cosponsors as House cosponsors, considering the House has more than quadruple as many members.)

Last updated May 4, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 27, 2017.


Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017

This bill directs the Department of State, with respect to covered countries, to annually include within either the relevant Annual Country Report on Human Rights, the International Religious Freedom Report, or other appropriate report an assessment of the nature and extent of national laws or enforceable policies regarding the identification, return, or restitution of wrongfully seized or transferred Holocaust era assets and compliance with the goals of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, including:

the return to the rightful owner of wrongfully seized or transferred property, including religious or communal property, or the provision of comparable substitute property or the payment of equitable compensation to the rightful owner; the use of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the Terezin Declaration in settling claims involving publicly and privately held movable property; the restitution of heirless property to assist needy Holocaust survivors; and progress on the resolution of claims for U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors and family members. "Covered countries" means signatories to the Terezin Declaration that are determined by the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues to be countries of particular concern with respect to such restitution.