Thursday, 2 Dec 2021 - 28 of Kislev, 5782

US, Israel, Jewish groups express dismay over Polish law limiting Holocaust-restitution claims

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“I think that it’s sad that in 2021, Poland, instead of moving forward to try to address its history, is moving backwards to try to extinguish what limited rights people have,” said Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

By Dmitriy Shapiro, JNS

Officials in the United States and Israel, as well as international organizations, are condemning legislation passed in the lower house of the Polish parliament that would make it more difficult for Holocaust survivors to reclaim property seized on Polish soil by the Nazis.

The law that was approved by the ruling Law & Justice Party establishes a 30-year limit for restitution claims on property taken from them during World War II by the Nazis and then confiscated by the post-war Communist regime.

It would create significant hurdles for Holocaust survivors and their descendants who are fighting for the return of property by challenging administrative decisions made more than 30 years ago and public administrative bodies would not be able to declare invalid any Communist-era nationalization decision, including those without a legal basis in the law at the time.

The legislation would also dismiss any already filed claims, some of which have been pursued for years.

“I think it’s a backwards step by Poland, and I think that it’s very sad that in 2021, Poland, instead of moving forward to try to address its history, is moving backwards to try to extinguish what limited rights people do have,” said Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which advocates for Holocaust-related restitution issues in Eastern Europe.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that the government of Poland is making a serious mistake and that it was a “direct and painful violation of the rights of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”

“No law will change history. The new Polish law is a disgrace and will seriously damage relations between the two countries,” Lapid wrote in a tweet. “Israel will stand as a defensive wall protecting the memory of the Holocaust, and the honor of Holocaust survivors and their property.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price also weighed in on the issue on Friday morning.

“We believe in the importance of settling Holocaust-era restitution issues to ensure fairness and equality for all victims,” he tweeted. “The decision of Poland’s parliament yesterday was a step in the wrong direction. We urge Poland not to move this legislation forward.”

Prior to the Holocaust, Poland had the largest Jewish population in the world with more than 3 million, mostly in Warsaw and Krakow. Ninety percent were killed by the Nazis.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that this issue—it is an issue not about what happened during the Holocaust. Poland was a victim country. It’s about the property that was confiscated after the Holocaust by the Communist authorities,” said Taylor.

Poland never passed a comprehensive law on restitution, instead saying that property restitution claims must go through the regular court system, which limits standing and take years to resolve.

“It’s trying to close the door on a process that never happened in any serious way at all. And to say that the process is over and there are no more claims and that the issue is closed,” said Taylor. “And the issue is not closed. It’s an issue of justice and it’s an issue of history. I mean, for many people … a piece of property out in Poland was the last connection they have with their history that was a proud history of 1,000 years of polish Jewry. … And by trying to cut off any potential claims, even though the claims that are possible are still very limited, it’s basically a statement by Poland that it doesn’t care about this history, and it doesn’t care about these people.”

Taylor says his organization hopes that the Polish Senate and President Andrzej Duda reject it. He said he believes that Poland is doing this to create legal certainty in property transactions without having to worry that anyone else has a claim to it. But that certainty will only exist in Poland, he said, and not in the eyes of the rest of the world.

“You can’t move forward by ignoring that step of doing justice of addressing the past,” he said. And that’s why I don’t think this will give certainly in any broader sense at all.”

‘A slap in the face to what remains of Polish Jewry’

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, also excoriated the Polish government for the legislation in a news release Friday.

The release noted that Poland stands out among post-Communist countries in which tried to right historic wrongs and enact legislation to address the issue of stolen Jewish property by dodging the issue for the past three decades.

The legislation would codify the deliberate obstruction, according to a World Jewish Congress news release.

“This law is a slap in the face to what remains of Polish Jewry and survivors of Nazi brutality everywhere. It also sets a terrible precedent throughout Europe as survivors and descendants continue to seek justice,” Lauder said in a news release. “I have been an unwavering advocate of Poland in Washington and elsewhere ever since that country rejected the Communist system in favor of democracy. I was inspired by Poland’s fight for freedom and its national rebirth, even when I disagreed with some of Warsaw’s policies.

“But this flagrant and entirely gratuitous act by the Polish Parliament leaves me questioning my own commitment and the future of U.S.-Polish relations,” he continued. “It pains me to say this, but I think that the time has come for the international Jewish community to re-evaluate our relationship with a government that is behaving with unimaginable callousness, and is emulating the worst traditions in Polish history, rather than the best and most uplifting ones.

“Since moral persuasion clearly has not been effective, perhaps the time has come to treat Poland with the same consideration it accords to Polish Jews and their descendants seeking justice.”

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