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New York Remembers
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Op-Ed

New York Remembers

Survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp walk by the main gate bearing the motto Arbeit Macht Frei at the former Auschwitz I site on January 27, 2020 in Oswiecim, Poland. Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images
Survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp walk by the main gate bearing the motto Arbeit Macht Frei at the former Auschwitz I site on January 27, 2020 in Oswiecim, Poland. Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images

The current rise in anti-Semitic acts is especially concerning as we reach the 75th anniversary of significant milestones: the liberation of Auschwitz (Jan. 27), now known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day; the end of the Second World War in Europe (May 8); and the commencement of the quest for justice for victims of Nazi atrocities (the Nuremberg Trials, Nov. 20). Now more than ever, we must remember the cataclysmic history that led to these events and we must act.

In this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans to expand the Museum of Jewish Heritage-a Living Memorial to the Holocaust to enable the education of New York residents and visitors, help “confront the growing ignorance and intolerance … and teach young people our civic values and history on diversity.”

Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the governor announced that the Department of Financial Services (DFS), which plays a vital role in helping Holocaust victims and their heirs obtain a measure of justice for the crimes perpetrated against them, will host an international symposium on the Holocaust claims process.

The symposium will be held on May 7-8, in New York City, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the Allied forces victory in Europe (V-E Day). Dozens of practitioners and experts will gather to explore the loss of cultural objects that resulted from Nazi persecution.

We cannot stand silent in the midst of anti-Semitism. Recent hate crimes from Brooklyn to Monsey highlight that it has never been more critical to learn from our past. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in United States in 2018. This marks the third-highest number of incidents in the past four decades, second only to 2017 when 1,986 incidents were documented. These numbers tell an alarming story.

Auschwitz concentration camp survivors and their families attend the official ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site on January 27, 2020 near Oswiecim, Poland. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

We need only recall the history of the Nazis to know that such behavior, left unchecked, can have devastating consequences. From 1933 to 1945, the pillaging of Jewish property ranged from outright theft and confiscation to the more intricate processes including those involving taxation and forced sales and sales under duress. These years of persecution, ethnic cleansing, and widespread, large-scale theft resulted in the greatest transfer of wealth in history.  The ramifications of these crimes still reverberate across the globe today.

Linda A. Lacewell. Courtesy

In 1997, New York took a stand to demand accountability for financial losses sustained during the Holocaust and created the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), the only government office in the world to assist Holocaust victims and their heirs with a variety of restitution claims.

Now part of DFS, the office has assisted individuals in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and 40 countries. To date, HCPO has secured over $180 million in offers for bank, insurance, and other losses. The office has facilitated settlements involving 162 cultural objects. Today, HCPO works with entities around the world to help rectify the crimes of the past, making the office uniquely qualified to host this conference.

As Gov. Cuomo said at the Jan. 5 march against anti-Semitism in New York City; “Government must do more than just offer thoughts and prayers. Government must act.”

Today, DFS recommits to its mission of helping Holocaust victims and their heirs. As we mark these solemn anniversaries, the terms “Never Forget” and “We Remember” are more than just phrases, they are calls to action — demanding a stand against hate and its ramifications. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Linda A. Lacewell is superintendent of New York State Department of Financial Services and a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet; Anna B. Rubin is director of The Holocaust Claims Processing Office.

 

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