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Polish Government Passes Law Blocking Property Restitution to Holocaust Victims

The Polish parliament approved legislation designed to end claims for property restitution and compensation for property confiscated by the country’s Communist regime in the 1940s and 1950s, including that of Holocaust survivors.

Polish President Andrzej Duda now has 21 days to sign the legislation into law or veto it.

“I condemn the Polish parliamentary legislation that was approved today, which harms the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday.

In July, the upper house of parliament, the Senate, moderated the original version of the law passed by the lower house, the Sejm, in June.

But the Sejm rejected the softened version of the bill on Tuesday and voted to approve it on Wednesday, at the insistence of the ruling Law and Justice Party.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Polish Communist authorities enacted a massive program of property confiscation across the country, which included large amounts of property previously belonging to Poland’s pre-war Jewish population of some three million people, 90% of whom were murdered by the Nazis.

Much of this property confiscation was carried out in accordance with laws enacted by the Communist regime, but some was done outside the framework of those laws, leaving room for the original owners, or their heirs, to reclaim the property through the Polish courts.

The new law would make it impossible for a court to invalidate a confiscation if 10 years have passed since that confiscation was carried out.

In addition, the new law would make it impossible to even begin proceedings in court to reclaim property if 30 years have passed since the property was confiscated.

Finally, if legal proceedings have already been initiated to reclaim a specific property, but were begun more than 30 years after it was confiscated and the legal process is not complete before the new law enters into force, then that claim would automatically be dismissed.

“We are outraged by today’s vote in the Polish lower house, which is equally unfair for both Jews and non-Jews,” said Gideon Taylor, Chairman of Operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which has lobbied vigorously against the law. “If this bill is signed into law by President Duda, the Polish Government will have effectively legally foreclosed the possibility for rightful owners to secure redress for what was taken from them. Poland is, of course, not responsible for what Nazi Germany did during the Holocaust. However, more than 30 years after the fall of Communism, Poland still benefits from this wrongfully acquired property.”

Taylor called on Duda to veto the bill, and urged the Polish Government to work together with WJRO to settle the issue of private property restitution.

“Many Holocaust survivors and their families have been waiting for justice for too long,” he said. “We will not stop seeking justice for Holocaust survivors and others.”

Speaker of the Knesset Mickey Levy described the law as “daylight robbery that desecrates the memory of the Holocaust,” adding “Poland’s decision to pass this immoral law harms the friendship and bilateral relations between Israel and Poland.”

As a result, he decided not to re-establish the parliamentary friendship group between the Israeli Knesset and the Polish Sejm and Senate, which regularly holds various activities to strengthen ties between the countries.