Poland on Friday defended planned changes to its property restitution regulations, after Israel said the reforms were “immoral’ and will prevent Jewish claims for compensation or property seized during the Holocaust and communist times.
Poland’s lower house of parliament on Thursday passed a controversial draft bill limiting Jewish claims to property seized during the Holocaust.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, responded to the law by stating: “The Polish parliament passed a law preventing the return of Jewish property or compensation to Holocaust survivors and their descendants. I have no intention of remaining silent in the face of this law. This is a direct and painful violation of the rights of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. This isn’t the first time that the Poles have tried to deny what happened in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. This law is immoral and will seriously harm relations between the countries.”
“No law will change history. It is a disgrace that will not erase the horrors and memories of the Holocaust. The State of Israel will stand as a protective wall for the memories and the honor of Holocaust survivors and their property.
“Poland, on whose soil millions of Jews were murdered, has seriously erred. It’s not too late to rectify it.”
The U.S. State Department also called the changes a “step in the wrong direction” and urged Poland not to follow through with them.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry said the reforms would not stop restitution claims being made through courts.
They “do not in any way restrict the possibility of bringing civil suits to seek damages, irrespective of the plaintiff’s nationality or origin,” the ministry said.
The Israeli Embassy had charged that the changes being processed in parliament would make it impossible for seized Jewish property to be returned. It said they would also prevent Holocaust survivors and their heirs from seeking compensation. Poland was home to a large Jewish community for many centuries, until the Nazi German invasion in World War II.
“This immoral law will have a serious impact on the relations between our countries,” the embassy said on Twitter.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry replied that these comments “are indicative of ignorance of the facts and the Polish law.”
The U.S. was also critical of the legislation with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying that the changes were a “step in the wrong direction” while urging Poland “not to move this legislation forward.”
“We believe in the importance of settling Holocaust-era restitution issues to ensure fairness and equality for all victims,” Price posted on his official Twitter account.
The changes were ordered in 2015 by Poland’s top Constitutional Tribunal and set a 30-year statute of limitation on challenges to administrative decisions issued in gross violation of the law. They are intended to end fraud and irregularities in property restitution in Warsaw, Krakow and other cities and locations.
In a vote Thursday night, Polish lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the changes, which still need approval from the Senate and from President Andrzej Duda before they can become law.
Before WWII Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany’s occupation and their property was confiscated. Post-war communist authorities seized the property, along with the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities.
A 2001 draft law foreseeing compensations for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski, who said it violated social equality principles and would hurt Poland’s economic development – implying that compensation claims would result in massive payouts. He also said individual claims should be made through the courts.
Poland is the only European country that has not offered any kind of compensation for private property, including Jewish property, seized by the state in its recent history.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)