Compensation scheme for victims of the Nazis launched by Blair government is to end

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Compensation scheme for victims of the Nazis launched by Blair government is to end

Enemy Property Claims Assessment Panel, launched in 1999, will wind down after having paid out more than £25 million

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Holocaust survivor at the Bergen-Belsen memorial. The camp was liberated by Britain.
Holocaust survivor at the Bergen-Belsen memorial. The camp was liberated by Britain.

A compensation scheme set up more than 20 years ago by the Blair government, to compensate victims of Nazi persecution whose assets had been seized by Britain, is now coming to a close.

EPCAP is the Enemy Property Claims Assessment Panel, originally set up under the aegis of the late Lord Archer of Sandwell, formerly Labour’s solicitor-general. It was created to compensate people who had property or funds confiscated by Britain during the war, under the 1939 Trading With The Enemy Act.

The intention of the Act was to prevent UK assets belonging to people living in enemy countries — such as Germany or any of the Axis powers — from being used to help those countries’ war effort. In fact, all too often they were assets moved to Britain by Jews living in Nazi-occupied states. The Jews thought their money would be safe in Britain — and those who survived spent more than 50 years after the war trying to get such money back.

The panel, currently chaired by Arthur Harverd, a Jewish accountant and arbitrator awarded an MBE in last year’s New Year Honours List for his services to the scheme, has paid out more than £25 million in compensation since EPCAP’s founding in 1999.

Now, after assessing claims for compensation for more than 20 years, the EPCAP panellists — who operate under the aegis of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) — believe the scheme is coming to its natural end.

Accordingly, the Business Minister, Paul Scully, has announced a consultation period for the closure of the scheme, which will end on September 9 this year. He said: “These schemes (the panel also oversees the Baltic States Scheme), universally recognised as among the most generous to operate worldwide, have offered hundreds of people rightful compensation for the horrors they faced during the Second World War, at the hands of Nazis and other totalitarian oppressors”.

The EPCAP panel, Mr Scully said, had done “amazing work”, and urged “anyone who has yet to make their claim to do so now, to ensure everyone receives the compensation they are entitled to.”

EPCAP has looked at more than 1200 applications over the years, publicising its work through British embassies abroad. Applicants to the Enemy Property Payments Scheme had to show that they were the owners of the assets, and to demonstrate that they were the victims of Nazi persecution. Families of Holocaust victims also had to prove their relationship to the original holder of the assets. The Baltic States Scheme applied to any resident of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who had deposited assets in the UK before 1939. For this second scheme it was not necessary to show evidence of Nazi persecution.

About a third of the claims were turned down for lack of evidence. Among the successful claimants, however, were “a non-Jewish doctor who risked his life to help Jewish colleagues and was forced to flee his home, the family of an art collector who perished in the Holocaust, while his collection was sold off for profit, and Jewish people who fled from France to South America”.

Arthur Harverd said: “The scheme has been fair, generous and successful. It has been a vitally important UK government initiative, providing the families of those who suffered Nazi persecution with a sense that at long last justice has been done, the suffering endured by their forebears has been recognised and closure achieved.

“Panel colleagues have worked tirelessly in evaluating the details of every claim — and we are thankful for the support of successive ministers and officials at BEIS and the dedicated assistance of the members of the EPCAP Secretariat in support of the scheme.

“The overwhelming majority of the original owners of the assets concerned have of course now died, and very few new claims are being received. We therefore believe that this is an appropriate time to consult on closing the schemes, while allowing for new claims still to be received up to the date of actual closure.”

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