Last year across Washington we marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. We celebrated the 25th anniversary of German reunification. We awarded the Monuments Men — made famous by Hollywood — with the Congressional Gold Medal.
As the children of immigrants and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we have taken a special interest in more nuanced foreign policy issues that do not always make the headlines.
Like many of our colleagues, we applaud the valuable alliance our nation has built with Germany. We applaud Chancellor Angela Merkel’s keen awareness of anti-Semitism and President Barack Obama’s recent visit to the Israeli Embassy to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Congress has played and will continue to play a valuable role in fostering this alliance. We know that in April, our deep commercial ties (and a trade deal which Congress is actively considering) will take center stage when Obama visits the annual Hannover Messe, an international industrial technology exhibition in Hannover, Germany.
On Jan. 30, 1933, the 12 years of Nazi terror known as the Holocaust began. On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we hosted back-to-back widely attended expert panel discussions in our districts. We called attention to the countless works of art belonging to Jewish families which were prolifically looted and “sold” under duress during the early years of the Holocaust. We learned of recent German opportunistic revisionism suggesting the Holocaust did not begin in 1933. We learned how looted art helped fund the initial war budget of the Axis powers. We learned lessons that can be applied today as the self-proclaimed Islamic State loots — and resells for profit — cultural artifacts. We also publicly released a letter we spearheaded with 27 other members of Congress to Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, encouraging further alignment with Germany’s policy toward restitution of artwork.
In order to facilitate the return of property confiscated from victims of the Holocaust, especially cultural artifacts, the governments of the United States, Germany, its 16 states, and 42 other nations signed the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in December 1998. In 2009, the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era-Assets and Related Issues recommitted the United States and Germany to these important issues.
In our districts and communities across the country, Holocaust survivors are dying without justice. Their pleas are going unanswered by foreign government bureaucrats. They are faced with silence and inaction.
We continue to remain concerned by the slow pace of restitution efforts and lack of transparency about these important issues.
In the spirit of cooperation, we hope that this year will bring greater dialogue with Holocaust survivors and their heirs. Indeed, it is only through dialogue that justice is served.
Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.