PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Dozens of nations announced Wednesday that they would try harder to return real estate stolen by the Nazis, opening archives and processing claims for restitution faster.
Forty-three countries backed the first set of global guidelines for returning the real estate to its rightful owners or heirs.
The nonbinding rules call for more transparency and speed in the processing of restitution claims for property stolen between 1933 and 1945. They also state that people claiming lost property should be given free access to all relevant local, regional, and national archives.
"We've made a major advance in providing belated justice to victims and their families," Stuart Eizenstat, a special adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on Holocaust issues, said at a presentation of the rules in the Czech capital.
"For the first time in 65 years . . . nations have come together in Prague to provide a guideline and best practices for property confiscated and wrongly seized by the Nazis, fascists, and their collaborators during the Holocaust era," he added.
Before the Holocaust, Jews owned property in Europe that was worth $10 billion to $15 billion at the time, according to a 2007 study by economist Sidney Zabludoff.
Most was taken and never returned or paid for, translating into a missing $115 billion to $175 billion in current prices, the study said. Many Western European governments paid restitution for only a fraction of the stolen assets, while Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc paid almost nothing at all, it said.
Israel's ambassador to the Czech Republic said he was "satisfied" with Wednesday's outcome.
"We've been negotiating for close to a year with some ups and downs and the final document practically addresses all our concerns," Yaakov Levy said.
Others, such as the former chairman of Prague's Jewish community, were skeptical that the new rules would bring about change anytime soon.
"It would be revolutionary if governments really adhere to these guidelines," Tomas Jelinek said. "It would be a miracle."
Russia, for one, has said it could not support the new standards because other nations refused to comply with its requests to change parts of the document, said Tomas Pojar, the Czech ambassador to Israel. He did not elaborate.
The rules are the product of yearlong negotiations begun at an international restitution conference in Prague last June.
A conference to review progress is planned to take place in two years.