31 July 2009

Poland: No restitution legislation yet

The Canadian Jewish News covered the private property issue in Poland, which has not yet passed restitution legislation to compensate Poles for lost private property.

Among issues covered by reporter Sheldon Kirshner:

Jews comprised about 10% of the pre-war population, but are nearly 20% of claimants.

Poland has begun to return communal property under a 1997 agreement. But according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany,Poland is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc not to have settled the problem. The former Polish prime minister and Poland's ambassador to Israel both promised last year to work on a law to settle the issue. None exists yet.

According to Stanislaw Krajewski, a member of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, and a foun­der of the Polish-Israeli Friendship Society, there have been 10 attempts to resolve the issue since Poland’s peaceful passage to democracy in 1989.

Eight years ago, the then-president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, ve­toed such a bill, saying it violated the constitution and would be too cost­ly to bear. In 2006, the Polish government submitted draft legislation proposing compensation for confiscated private property. But the bill was limited in scope, not including properties in War­saw, the capital, and offering only 20 cents per dollar.

“It’s a massive problem because millions of people are involved,” said Krajewski, a Warsaw University philosophy professor. “It would be a huge financial burden on Poland.”

By one estimate, Jewish property claims run the gamut from $30 to $40 billion (US), this at a time when Poland is struggling with a deepening recession that is expected to grow still worse in 2010.
Complicating the task is that about half of Warsaw was destroyed during wartime, replaced by new construction, and Jewish neighborhoods pre-1939 are now outside the country's border.

In a position paper, the World Jewish Restitution Organization said, “Assets taken over or expropriated must be given back, otherwise the wrong committed is not redressed. The international community demands it. Morality requires it.” It added, “Poland should attempt to have all private properties confiscated from 1939 to the end of the Communist regime restituted to their former owners or their heirs, even if many such properties are currently possessed by third parties.”
Polish-Jewish journalist Konstany Gebert - director of the US-based Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture - says that "Poland will face an ava­lanche of lawsuits should action not be taken."

The story discusses possible lawsuits by survivors, such as French survivor Henryk Pikielny who wanted to challenge Poland's refusal to return his father's Lodz factory.

The situation is impacting Poland's image around the world, according to officials, but they claim the financial crisis is a cause of the inaction.

Post-war border changes mean that some properties claimed are now in Ukraine, Belarus and Germany, thus clouding the issue for Poland's return of property no longer under its control or authority.

Read the complete story at the link above.

1 comment:

  1. Does anybody have any idea if non-jewish Poles had stolen houses and other property from Jews during the Holocaust era. My guess is, yes, they did, but I would like to find some documented evidence of this. Any suggestions?