Polish Far-Right Protests Against Jewish Property Restitution

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Polish nationalists marched in Warsaw on Saturday, demanding that Poland pay no compensation to Jews or other people whose properties were confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and later by the Communists.

Poland is the only ex-communist nation without comprehensive legislation addressing claims for property nationalized last century. The World Jewish Restitution Organization has repeatedly called on the country to address property claims by U.S.-citizen Holocaust survivors and their families, and the U.S. Congress last year obliged the State Department to monitor progress in restitution laws in countries such as Poland.

Polish Far-Right Protests Against Jewish Property Restitution

After U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Poland to move forward with property restitution laws in February, the issue became a lightening rod for far-right groups, who are campaigning ahead of this month’s European Parliament elections. To prevent the radical right from wooing away the ruling party’s conservative electorate, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed on Saturday that Poland will reject compensation demands as its citizens were victims of atrocities from German occupants and “cannot bear any responsibility.”

“Jewish claims are a real danger for all of us,” said Robert Bakiewicz from the nationalist National March group, saying that the battle is about $300 billion worth of real estate whose owners died in the war. “The Polish government is facing the historical test of responsibility for the nation amid demands that have only an ethical but not legal basis. We want ruling politicians to defend our properties.”

Protesters gathered in the Polish capital, a city that was razed to the ground by the occupying Nazis during World War II, in a march dubbed “Stop 447,” referring to the number of the U.S. Congress act that imposed monitoring of restitutions. They chanted “No to claims” and “Here is Poland not Polin” in a reference to the Hebrew word for the country, and held signs saying “unconstitutional robbery plunder.”

Poland is keen to avoid a battle over restitution with the U.S. as it seeks to boost the U.S. military presence on its soil as a deterrent against potential threats from Russia. The Polish government has said that potential claims are void after the country’s communist authorities paid the U.S. $40 million in 1960 to provide indemnity to claims by U.S. citizens for property seized in Poland.

The U.S. act is “an internal American document, which doesn’t directly trigger legal consequences for Polish rules or alter Polish-U.S. ties,” Krzysztof Szczerski, the head of President Andrzej Duda’s chancellery, said Friday. “Poland’s understanding is that this issue is closed.”

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