Polish PM: We won't pay one zloty for German crimes

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned that the advancement of the anti-restitution bill would harm ties with Warsaw.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki pledged that his country would not pay restitution to Holocaust survivors for German crimes committed against them on its territory during World War II.
He spoke after Poland’s lower house of parliament on Thursday passed a draft bill introducing a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property.
“I can only say that as long as I am the PM, 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 U.S. 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.
Prominent Israelis sharply criticized the law; then-foreign minister Israel Katz repeated a quote from former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir that Poles get antisemitism with their mothers’ milk, and Lapid, who at the time was an opposition lawmaker, said Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said soon after that some Poles collaborated with the Nazis, which also sparked uproar in Poland.
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.
Poland is the only EU country that has not legislated on property restitution, despite repeated calls to do so from the US.
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 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.
Ahead of the vote, the US chargé d’affaires expressed his concerns in a letter to the parliament speaker, Polish media reported.
“Our understanding is that this draft bill would effectively make restitution or compensation for Holocaust or Communist era property unobtainable for a large percentage of claims,” Bix Aliu wrote, according to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily.
The parliamentary press office confirmed it had received such a letter, though it did not release the text. The US embassy did not comment.
Barbara Bartus, one of the bill’s authors, said parliament has to enact the Tribunal’s verdict. The new time limits would apply only to administrative proceedings and not civil lawsuits, although she accepted that challenging administrative decisions was often the basis for claims of compensation.
“It’s been over 30 years (that Poland is) a free country and I believe... if someone needed to sort out some very old issues in administrative proceedings... they had 30 years to do that,” Bartus told Reuters.
The Polish foreign and justice ministries did not reply to Reuters’ requests for comment.
“We urgently call upon Prime Minister [Mateusz] Morawiecki and the Polish Government to address the issue of private property restitution in a just and timely manner. 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. New, insurmountable legal conditions should not be imposed in 2021 that would make it impossible to recover property or receive just compensation,” said Gideon Taylor, chairman of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
On Friday, a Polish government minister accused Israel’s foreign minister of a “profound lack of knowledge” on Friday in a deepening row over a bill critics say will make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Poland’s Nazi occupiers during World War Two.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder strongly condemned the Polish draft law, saying it “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.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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