WJRO condemns Polish parliament for draft bill on Holocaust restitution
The site of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz is pictured during the ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp and International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, in Brzezinka near Oswiecim, Poland, January 27, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NORA SAVOSNICK)
The bill passed the Sejm on Thursday with 309 in favor and 120 abstained and must go to the Polish Senate for private approval.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WRJO) condemned the Polish Parliament for passing a draft bill introducing a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property.This draft bill would severely limit any ability by Polish Jewish Holocaust victims to recover their stolen property. Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not legislated on property restitution, despite repeated calls to do so from the US.The WJRO is calling for a withdrawal of the proposed bill that would make it nearly impossible to challenge decisions issued by the Communist authorities to expropriate Holocaust era private property, Jewish and non-Jewish owners alike.“We urgently call upon Prime Minister Morawiecki and the Polish Government to address the issue of private property restitution in a just and timely manner," said the Chair of Operations for the WJRO Gideon Taylor. "Both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants have waited decades for a measure of justice resulting from the confiscation or nationalization of their property during the Holocaust or by the Communist government."
"The current proposal, if adopted, would further harm Polish Holocaust survivors who have already suffered so much," Taylor added. "New, insurmountable legal conditions should not be imposed in 2021 that would make it impossible to recover property or receive just compensation.”Additionally, the WJRO issued a letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who pledged that his country would not pay restitution to Holocaust survivors for German crimes committed against them on its territory during World War II.“I can only say that as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will surely not pay for the German crimes. Not a zloty [PL currency], not a euro, not a dollar,” Morawiecki said on Friday.The advancement of the bill heightened tensions with Israel on the issue, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warning that ties between the two strong allies could be harmed.“No law will change history,” Lapid said. “The Polish law is immoral and will severely harm relations between the countries. Israel will stand as a bastion protecting the memory of the Holocaust and the dignity of Holocaust survivors and their property.” “Poland, on whose ground millions of Jews were murdered, knows the right thing to do,” the foreign minister added.The United States also spoke out against the bill.“The decision of Poland’s s parliament yesterday was a step in the wrong direction. We urge Poland not to move this legislation forward,” the US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet on Friday. Poland-Israel ties have been strained since 2018, after Poland passed a law penalizing those arguing that Poland or the Polish people were in any way responsible for the Holocaust.Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis during World War II. Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation since the fall of communism in 1989.In 2015, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that there must be a deadline set, after which faulty administrative decisions on returning confiscated property can no longer be challenged. In March, a parliamentary committee proposed a bill to implement that ruling, with deadlines ranging from 10-30 years. Critics say that would put a time limit on requests for restitution.The draft bill passed the Sejm on Thursday with 309 in favor and 120 abstained and must go to the Polish Senate for private approval.Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said on Friday morning in a tweet that Lapid’s statement is “marked by bad will, and above all, a deep ignorance of the facts. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Jablonski’s tweet.“Poles, like Jews, were victims of terrible German crimes,” Jablonski tweeted. “The act passed in the Sejm [lower house of parliament] protects the victims of these crimes and their heirs against fraud and abuse. It is the implementation of the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of 2015. As a result of wild re-privatization... many people were deprived of their possessions.”Blocking the law would be an injustice in which Israel should not be a part, Jablonski added.Lapid said that preserving the memory of the Holocaust and taking care of survivors, which includes property restitution, is an important part of Israel’s identity and the Foreign Ministry’s actions.“This is a moral and historic responsibility that we proudly carry,” he stated.Lapid added that he expects countries to act to return Jewish property that was confiscated during the Holocaust.“The Polish law, which effectively prevents restitution of Jewish property or compensation in exchange for it, is a terrible injustice and shamefully harms the rights of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, which came from Jewish communities that lived in Poland for hundreds of years,” he stated.Zachary Keyser, Lahav Harkov and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.