BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A program to provide direct funds to Serbian Holocaust survivors all over the world has been launched in Serbia, an international Jewish group said Tuesday.
The program results from a law passed last year in Serbia allowing for the restitution to the Jewish community of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust, the World Jewish Restitution Organization said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of Serbian Jews perished during Nazi occupation of the Balkan country during World War II.
The law envisions the Serbian government paying 950,000 euros ($1 million) per year for 25 years to the Federation of Jewish Communities. For at least the first 10 years, one-fifth of the money will be set aside for direct payments to Holocaust survivors, the World Jewish Restitution Organization said.
"This is a historic step to provide compassion and a measure of justice to Serbian Holocaust survivors more than 70 years after the Nazis declared Serbia free of Jews," WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor said.
The first payments are just starting, and the organization has been reaching out to 1,000 survivors who now live in 27 countries around the world, including Serbia, Taylor told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
"It's a powerful symbol, it is a symbol of recognition of history, it is recognition that many Jews perished in the Holocaust in Serbia and that there are survivors alive today who are acknowledged through this modest compensation payment," Taylor said.
Taylor praised Serbia's willingness to tackle the issue of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property, urging other countries to follow the example.
"The fact that Serbian survivors are living in so many countries is significant," he added. "It emphasizes how global is this issue."
WJRO's statement said the survivors can apply by the end of July for the direct payments.
Some 3,000 Jews live in Serbia today.