Will Polish anti-restitution law permanently damage ties with Israel, the Jewish community?
By Dmitriy Shapiro
(JNS) Despite international pressure to veto the bill, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a bill passed by the Polish legislature on August 14 that would prevent people with property seized by the Nazis during WWII world or by the post-war Communist government to bring him back.
The bill effectively ends the chances that Polish Holocaust survivors and their descendants will receive restitution by filing requests for the return of their confiscated property, including those currently before the courts seeking restitution.
The action, the president wrote in a statement after signing the bill, would end decades of uncertainty for the Polish people as to whether property occupied by individuals should be returned to their previous owners. communism or even pre-war.
“In my opinion, this is the end of the state of uncertainty, when apartments and real estate in good faith could be taken away by an ordinary administrative decision, when their owner of over 70 years ago been found, ”Duda wrote. “Practice has shown that these owners were often fictitious, and that criminal groups got richer at the cost of tens of thousands of people thrown onto the sidewalk. Anyone born at the wrong time and in the wrong place could be the victim, and reprivatization to restore justice has become almost synonymous with injustice and human harm. “
While the law does not mention Jews, the Holocaust or World War II, it ensures that an administrative decision made more than 30 years ago could no longer be challenged.
For months, the bill was condemned by the international community, which saw it as yet another attempt by Poland to erase its responsibility to return property confiscated from its Jewish community during the years of World War II and the Holocaust. Duda’s signing of the law was seen as an affront by Jewish organizations and leaders around the world.
“We deeply regret the adoption of these amendments. In addition, we urge the Polish government to consult with representatives of the parties concerned and to develop a clear, efficient and effective legal procedure to resolve claims relating to confiscated property and provide some justice to the victims, ”said the Secretary of State. American Antony Blinken in a statement. Monday. “In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property has been unfairly confiscated, including those of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. “
“Justice for what happened in the past”
The American Jewish Committee called the approval of the bill deplorable, writing on Twitter that it would make it virtually impossible for Holocaust survivors and claimants to seek redress and urged governments to resume constructive dialogue.
“Shameful that Poland passed a law that punishes the families of Polish Jews murdered en masse by the Nazis in ghettos and death camps established by Nazi Germany on Polish soil during the Holocaust. No respect, even in death, ”said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) – the world’s leading advocate for property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe, which has fought against the law since its inception – said it was a sad day for justice and justice. rule of law.
“With this law, Poland is trying to tell the world that if you delay justice long enough, you can close the door on history without taking responsibility and benefit in the present from the communist actions of the past. They are wrong, ”WJRO president of operations Gideon Taylor said in a statement. “This problem will not go away. Holocaust survivors, their descendants and other Polish citizens have struggled for decades to reclaim their legitimate property nationalized by the Polish Communists will not give up. Without justice for what happened in the past, there will be no legal certainty for those who trade in these stolen goods in the future. “
In his statement, Duda took offense that the law had anything to do with the Holocaust and that the Communist nationalization of property applied to all citizens, regardless of their religion.
“Israel and the Jewish people will not remain silent”
Israel’s new government has taken an even stronger stance in condemning the new law.
“Israel views with the utmost seriousness the approval of the law which prevents Jews from receiving compensation for property stolen from them during the Holocaust and regrets that Poland has chosen to continue harming those who have lost everything, ”said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. in an August 14 statement. “It is a shameful decision and a shameful disregard for the memory of the Holocaust. It is a serious step to which Israel cannot remain indifferent. “
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law unethical and anti-Semitic, and reminded the charge d’affaires of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw to return to Israel immediately for indefinite consultations. He also said that Israel’s new ambassador to Poland was ordered to stay in Israel and recommended that the Polish ambassador to Israel stay in Poland where he was on vacation.
“This time should be used to explain to the Polish people the significance of the Holocaust for the citizens of Israel, and to what extent we will refuse to tolerate any contempt for the memory of the Holocaust and its victims,” said Lapid. in the declaration on the day of the signing of the law. “It won’t stop here. We are talking with the Americans to coordinate our future response.
“Tonight, Poland has become an undemocratic and illiberal country which does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history,” he continued. “We must never remain silent. Israel and the Jewish people will certainly not remain silent.
The law was drafted and supported by Poland’s ruling right-wing law and justice party, which was previously on good terms with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Strong supporters of the Jewish state”
Eugene Kontorovich, professor of law and director of the Center for Middle East and International Law at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University, said that whatever problems Poland has faced with anti-Semitism in the past, he did not view this law as inherently anti-Semitic. and that the Israeli leaders choose an unnecessary fight.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with them wanting to have a property rights regulation so that property rights are not constantly questioned,” he said. “And you know, the 30-year cut-off makes it seem like it’s really mostly about communist nationalization and the transition from communism. Considering that the Holocaust in Poland was now almost 80 years ago, it is strange to think that it was primarily or significantly about Jews or the Holocaust, when hardly any whatever or all claims that could have been made about the problems of the Holocaust era would have been made by now.
Poland, he said, has stood up on numerous occasions and threatened to veto anti-Semitic actions in the European Union, becoming a vital ally of Israel – at great cost to it – even – and that the outrage over the bill could sacrifice that support.
“On numerous occasions they have vetoed European initiatives against Israel in a way which has … angered Brussels [the seat of the European Commission], and they were ready to endure the heat, ”Kontorovich said. “I think the Polish government has turned out to be a strong supporter of the Jewish state. “
Kontorovich believes the rejection of the law is a broad overreaction that will likely hurt Israel’s relations with Poland.
“The next time the Europeans consider some sort of sanctions measure or a restriction on trade or settlements … or condemn Israel, won’t Poland veto it because of it?” asked Kontorovich.
Meanwhile, WJRO swears he will continue to fight for the return of Polish property.
“Many Holocaust survivors and their families have waited too long for justice,” Taylor said in a statement. “Those who deal with what is really stolen Jewish property must understand that we will not stop seeking justice for Holocaust survivors and others. “
Main photo: Polish President Andrzej Duda. (Photo Grabowski / Shutterstock)