Poland Is Told Nazis Aren’t Solely to Blame in Jewish Property Feud
(Bloomberg) -- Poland is evading responsibility for its own historic wrongs by making it more difficult for Holocaust victims and their families to recover property confiscated by the Communists after World War II, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
Draft legislation that sets time limits for suing Poland over issues including property claims has drawn harsh criticism from the U.S. and Israel.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has rejected any suggestion that Poland shares responsibility for what happened after the 1939 invasion by Nazi Germany and vowed his country won’t pay a single “zloty, dollar or euro” for crimes carried out against the Jews.
Gideon Taylor, the chief of operations at the WJRO, said that while Poland and its citizens were undoubtedly “victims” of Nazi aggression, the country can’t ignore dark chapters in its postwar history. About 6 million Poles were killed in the conflict which ended in 1945, half of them Jews. The property left behind, including factories, was often seized by the country’s Soviet-backed communist regime that took power after the war.
“What we’re talking about is not what Germany did during the Holocaust, but about the property that was confiscated after the war by the Communist government,” Taylor said in an interview. The Polish state “took property, benefited from it for 70 years and now -- with this bill -- is saying that ‘we have no responsibility.’”
The nationalist ruling Law & Justice party approved a draft law in the lower house last week that establishes a 30-year limit for restitution claims against the state. Civil lawsuits may still be filed. The bill needs to be approved by the senate and signed by President Andrzej Duda to become binding.
Taylor said Poland, the only ex-communist nation without comprehensive legislation addressing claims for property nationalized last century, for years told groups representing claims to seek justice in Polish courts. With this law, the country will limit that avenue.
“This is not staying still, and this is not going forward -- this is going backward,” Taylor said. The WJRO is seeking talks with Poland to somehow resolve the property restitution issue.
The lobby has repeatedly called on Poland to address property claims by Holocaust survivors and their families, and U.S. Congress obliged the State Department last year to monitor progress in restitution rules, including those set by Poland.
The contested legislation, which has triggered a diplomatic row with Israel, follows a 2015 Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruling that stated Poland must eliminate discrepancies in the country’s approach toward claims against the state.
The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw said in a statement that: “Poland bears no responsibility for the Holocaust, which was a crime committed by the German occupiers, among others against Polish citizens of Jewish nationality.”
Law & Justice also ignited outrage in 2018 with a law criminalizing any suggestion that the country was responsible for the mass murder of Jews during World War II. The legislation was eventually watered down after Israel, the U.S., and some of Poland’s European Union allies warned that the controversial measure would muzzle historians and prevent Holocaust survivors from telling their stories.
“There’s a separate discussion about history which needs to be carried on,” Taylor said. “This is about whether a Holocaust survivor -- and a non-Jewish Pole -- can get back the property that was taken from them.”
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