42 nations to meet in D.C. to focus on Holocaust assets

The Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets will delve into categories of looted assets that have not been as exhaustively explored as gold and missing bank accounts — namely artworks and insurance policies.

The stated goals of the conference include sharing scholarly research related to Holocaust assets, prodding governments to search through and open all relevant archival records, and developing a broad consensus on future compensation efforts.

For many Jewish officials the central question is not what happens at the conference, but what happens after.

"The concern is that momentum will be lost and, more importantly, that the practical implementation of whatever proposals or policies are considered will no longer be part of the ongoing international agenda," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

European insurance firms have already agreed to set up a $90 million escrow fund. More is expected as an international commission of insurance officials and Jewish representatives investigates the archives of the companies and establishes a mechanism for repaying claims.

There are also untold fortunes tied to tens of thousands of looted artworks, many of them masterpieces, seized by the Nazis during their march across Europe. So far, researchers and museum officials have identified many of the stolen pieces, although scant progress has been made in developing a plan for restitution.

But for all the focus on material claims, many of those involved in the restitution battle have been stressing that money must not be the last word on the Holocaust.

Next week's conference intends to address the problem by proposing an innovative plan to promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance around the world.

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