ANNAPOLIS – Backers of successful legislation to give Holocaust victims and their families a one-time tax break on recovered World War II assets celebrated the bill’s signing Tuesday with a moment of silence led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
“Let us remember those who have died in the Holocaust,” Glendening said, and “reflect on the moral responsibility for all of us.”
A half-hour before the remembrance ceremony, Glendening signed into law a bill that exempts victims of Nazi persecution from paying inheritance taxes on stolen assets, like looted art, that may be recovered, as well as reparation payments that may be received from lawsuits against Swiss and German banks.
The new law also provides a one-time personal income tax deduction for those recovered assets. Spouses or descendants would benefit in cases where the primary victim has died.
In addition, the law eases the documentation standards families must meet in order to recoup life insurance money from companies that failed to pay claims in the past.
“For most victims in Maryland, this (law) is a symbolic gesture,” said Delegate Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, co-sponsor of the bill, “but it means a lot.”
Coincidentally, the bill signing fell on the Jewish holiday, “Yom Ha Shoah” – which means “the day of the Holocaust” in Hebrew – a day set aside for remembering the Holocaust around the world.
Glendening said in an interview after the ceremony that he felt signing the bill was the right thing to do.
“No government should collect a tax on the suffering of people in the past,” he said. Glendening joined 48 other governors in proclaiming this week “Days of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust.”
Marsha Tishler, director of Holocaust programming for the Baltimore Jewish Council, said it’s difficult to determine how many Marylanders could benefit from the new law.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has a registry of Holocaust survivors listing 1,710 individuals in Maryland. But not all survivors register and the list is not updated for people who have died, Tishler said.
“We really don’t know what we’re going to be dealing with,” she said, adding, “The monies will be minimal. That is my sense.”
David Conn, director of the Maryland Jewish Alliance, said there are about 300 claimants from Maryland in a class-action lawsuit against Swiss banks.
While a relatively small number of people will be affected by the law, “it sends a strong signal that the state of Maryland has compassion for these survivors,” Conn said.
The new law comes at a particularly relevant time, Conn said, with the suspected ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia.
“I guarantee that not a day goes by during this war that every survivor isn’t reminded of the horrors of their history,” he said.
Alfred Strauss, 77, traveled to Annapolis Tuesday along with several other Holocaust survivors, for the bill signing and ceremonial moment of silence.
In late August 1939, a 17-year-old Strauss was one of the last Jewish children to escape from Germany on the children’s transports to Great Britain.
“My luggage consisted of a comb – which means I’ve never looked back.”
Strauss, who regularly speaks to schoolchildren about his Holocaust experience, said he wouldn’t benefit directly from the new law.
“But that’s all right, the issue here is broken lives,” he said.
Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, co-sponsor of the bill, said that the survivors are comforted by the fact that people remember and care about their experience.
In that sense the bill is mainly symbolic, the Montgomery County Democrat said, but it has particular resonance today.
“With what’s happening in Kosovo now,” she said, “one wonders if the world will ever learn.”