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08/01/2013

What about redress concerning Nazi looted Czech gold?

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 A Nazi gold bar.                                                                                                  (The Times of London)

The  revelations this week that the Bank of England helped sell Nazi looted gold, stolen from Czechoslovakia after the 1939 invasion, begs the question of compensation.

Archives recently released from the Bank of England's vaults show the British central bank aided in the sale of Nazi-seized gold that would be worth nearly $1.15 billion in today's market.

The Nazis annexed part of Czechoslovakia in 1938 called Sudetenland, then they took over the rest of the country in mid-March 1939.

There are billions of dollars available in an international fund to help settle issues of redress, said Alain Goldschlager, a professor at the University of Western Ontario. Goldschlager is also with the human rights organization B'nai Brith and he is one of Canada's representatives on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

"What happened in 1999 there was a huge conference in Washington that established people, countries and others should be compensated. There was a huge budget of $10 billion. In 2009, about $6 billion had been sent to legitimate institutions, people and countries. But there is still $4 billion in the air," he said.

But the bigger problem is, how do you deal with compensation 65 years after the fact.

"How do you restitute when so many people, total communities, have been eliminated?" he asked.

Goldschlager points to the problem of distributing thousands of precious Torah scrolls the Germans stole from synagogues that were burned to the ground.

"The scrolls are surrounded by a box, decorated often with silver and other things, those scrolls have an incredible value, also because of the art, some are 300 years old. Now there are thousands of those ... Who do they belong to? The communities were eliminated. Those weren't objects belonging to a person but a synagogue."

Poland argues the scrolls are from Polish synagogues so they belong to Poland, he said. Meanwhile Israel says the scrolls should be with them and then there are those who believe they should be distributed to synagogues internationally in an act of remembrance, he added.

"The discussion is there - they belong morally to someone but we don't know who exactly."

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

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