Poland Moves to Amend Jewish Property Law, Despite Opposition

New proposal will move compensation cases for property lost under Nazis and Communists from public committees to court system; Jewish groups in Poland say they will not accept changes.

The Polish government has decided to fundamentally change the process for returning Jewish property lost in the Holocaust or under the former Communist government, despite continued opposition from the Jewish community itself.

Under the new proposal, the issue will no longer be handled by joint government and community public committees, and claims will be go through the courts system.

The streets of Poland's capital, Warsaw - Reuters
The streets of Poland's capital, Warsaw. Reuters

Despite Jewish opposition, analysts say that it is almost certain that the House of Representatives in Warsaw will debate the proposal and approve the legislation in March.

The polish government is trying to reach a two-sided agreement, with a deal signed to avoid passing forced legislation in the issue. A number of non-Catholic churches also oppose the amendments, which are liable to affect them as well.

Head of Poland’s Jewish community Piotr Kadlcik, who was invited for consultations over the proposed reforms by the Minister for Administration and Computing, said that the proposed plan is not accepted by Jewish organizations in Poland, and that they will not sign an agreement that would prevent legislation by force.

The public property committees, active since 1997, have returned thousands of properties seized by the Nazis and the Communist government to Jewish communities across Poland, some of which were highly valuable. A further 3,000 cases are still being processed.

Under the changes, it is expected that courts will require proof of official land records, many of which were lost during the Holocaust. The community making the claim will be required to pay a guarantee of three percent of the value of the property they are claiming, and if claims are rejected, this money will be transferred to the state treasury.

A number of analysts link the proposed legislation with tension between Poland and Jewish diaspora organizations, particulary in the U.S. Poland is oneof the only countries that has still not fully compensated Jewish communities for communal property lost during the Holocaust, or which passed to state hands at the end of the Second World War, estimated to be worth billions of dollars. Past agreements to repay compensation have not been fully carried out.

Other theories include reports, which surfaced last year, of corruption on the public committee tasked with returning property to the Catholic Church after the fall of the Communist government in 1989.

On his visit to Warsaw this month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman raised the issue of Jewish property compensation with his counterpart, but to no avail.

Read this article in Hebrew