WARSAW/NEW YORK (EJP)— “We are profoundly disappointed that the Polish government’s proposal on restitution of confiscated property excludes the vast majority of Polish Holocaust survivors and their families,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement.
On Friday, Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki proposed new laws to regulate how compensation is paid to people whose properties were seized under communism.
Jaki, who heads a special commission reviewing controversial cases of Warsaw property restitution, proposed rules limiting who can claim for seized property and when. He also proposed financial compensation instead of direct property restitution.
A lack of comprehensive legislation has led to serious irregularities in the restitution process, and cases where property was returned to dead people or to businessmen unrelated to the original owners have provoked outrage in Poland.
In its current form, the bill requires that claimants to property be citizens living at the moment in Poland. In addition, only first-line heirs can stake a claim to assets.
This demand makes the claim to property much more difficult, if not impossible, for Jewish families, due to the fact that most Jewish people who survived the Holocaust left Poland and neither they nor their offspring currently reside in the country.
Another problematic aspect is that multiple Jewish families were obliterated in the war by the Nazi regime, meaning that in various cases there are no living first-line heirs that could step forward and make a claim to properties that were once owned by their families before the war.
Lauder, who is also Chairman of the Council of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said that while he “strongly welcomed” the principle and importance of such legislation, the actual text proposed by the Polish Ministry of Justice was insufficient and “excluded the vast majority” of survivors and their families.
“The Polish Holocaust survivors and their families were an integral part of Polish life for centuries. Their property is often their last tangible connection with the life they lived before the destruction of the Holocaust.
“We strongly urge the Polish government to ensure that the legislation, when introduced to the Parliament, will have eligibility criteria and a claims process that are fair and just to those who suffered and lost so much.”
The Ministry of Justice’s proposal contains a number of clauses that would impede full and fair restitution, including the stipulation that any claimants must first secure Polish citizenship, the restriction of claims within a one-year period, and a limit on the circle of heirs eligible to lodge claims to direct linear descendants of the owner.
Since the collapse of Communism in Poland, Jewish community assets such as graveyards, synagogues and community- owned houses were returned to the new Jewish religious communities in Poland in cities such as Warsaw and Krakow – but the matter of private property had not been addressed.
This has caused a lot of anguish for Jewish families both in Poland and outside of it, who all attempted to regain family homes and assets.