WJRO Responds to Negative Rhetoric and Public Attacks by the Polish Government about Issue of Property Restitution
(New York, NY) May 20, 2019: At a campaign rally on Saturday, May 18, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that his country will never pay restitution for Jewish properties stolen during the Holocaust, and that paying restitution “violates international law and would also be a posthumous victory for Hitler, which is why we will never allow it.”
“This statement is deeply insensitive to Holocaust survivors and their families. It is also simply incorrect — the issue is not about the German Nazi confiscations during the occupation of Poland,” said Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). “It is about property subsequently nationalized by the Polish Communist government that continues to benefit the Polish economy. Indeed, the Polish government introduced draft legislation to address this issue over a year ago. This issue impacts non-Jewish and Jewish property owners and is particularly important for Holocaust survivors whose property was first taken by the German Nazis and then by the Polish Communists. We call for Poland to meet its commitment to non-Jewish and Jewish property owners who have waited many years for Poland to provide them with a measure of justice.”
Background Information Regarding Poland and Recent Activity on Property Restitution
- In February, US Secretary of State Pompeo in his first trip to Warsaw publicly called for Poland to provide restitution: “We also appreciate the importance of resolving outstanding issues of the past, and I urge my Polish colleagues to move forward with comprehensive private property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust era.” Following the visit, the Prime Minister erroneously stated that the issue was “definitely resolved.” The Prime Minister was referring to a 1960 treaty between Communist-era Poland and the US that addressed only people who were citizens of the United States at the time of the taking of their property by Poland. Therefore, the treaty did not cover most American Holocaust survivors from Poland who became American citizens long after their property was confiscated. Nor would that agreement have affected claims from Polish Holocaust survivors or their families who live today in Israel or other countries.
- On May 11, thousands of Polish nationalists marched in Warsaw. Many held anti-Semitic placards, demanding that Poland pay no compensation to Jews for property seized during the Holocaust. Copies of the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion were distributed.
- The protests in Poland, as well as smaller ones in the United States, against returning property to Holocaust victims and their families focused on the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. The JUST Act, signed into law by President Trump after passing the US Congress unanimously, aims to encourage countries like Poland to fulfill their promises under the Terezin Declaration. The JUST Act serves as a powerful statement of America’s bipartisan, unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in their quest for justice.
- Last week, the Polish government cancelled a trip by Israeli officials to Warsaw because the officials were going to raise the issue of property restitution.
- Since 1989 when Poland became a democratic country, Polish governments have promised to pass comprehensive legislation for the return or compensation of property nationalized by the Polish Communist government from Jewish and non-Jewish owners. Poland is the only European Union member country that has not passed such legislation.
- In 2009, Poland and 46 other countries, endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, which recognizes the importance of restituting or compensating confiscations made during the Holocaust and its aftermath.
- In October 2017, the Polish government proposed comprehensive legislation to try to resolve the issue of property restitution. While the initial proposal had flaws that would have excluded the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and their families – its introduction reflected the government’s commitment to resolving the issue. At the time, Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki said that he was “ashamed” that Poland had not introduced legislation for the restitution of private property in the 28 years since the fall of Communism. “This should have been taken care of a long time ago,” he said.
Approximately 3,300,000 Jewish people lived in Poland prior to World War II. About 90% of Polish Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. It is estimated that 20,000 Jewish people currently live in Poland.