The Jewish property left in Poland on the eve of World War II is today worth more than $30 billion, according to a comprehensive report drawn up at the request of the Israeli government.
The estimate does not include communal buildings and facilities held by the various Jewish communities in different parts of Poland. The report was drawn up by experts from the government, the business sector and non-profit and non-governmental organizations.
Some 10 percent of Poland's population was Jewish before the Holocaust.
The report relates not only to the value of the property but also to its legal status, and proposes to the government how to proceed. It will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the ministerial committee on returning Jewish property.
The Foreign Ministry is opposed to explicit government intervention in returning Jewish property in eastern Europe, saying it could affect ties with these countries, particularly with Poland.
The government approved a proposal by Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky at the end of 2003 to set up under his leadership a ministerial committee on the subject. A steering committee, headed by Sharansky's adviser on Jewish property affairs, subsequently heard historians, legal experts and representatives of Jewish organizations, and examined archival material in various places including Yad Vashem and Poland.
According to a source close to the committee, many of the Polish Jews were very wealthy.
"They controlled the oil and textile industries, and held expensive properties, many of which are now in the downtown areas of the cities," the source said.
The Hebrew daily Maariv reported yesterday that the Polish government had proposed a new draft law permitting heirs to receive 15 percent of the worth of their property. Sources said it was unlikely that the law would be approved, and that the sum was insufficient, but expressed satisfaction that such a precedent had been set.
Since 90 percent of Polish Jewry perished in the Holocaust, it was unlikely that there would be many heirs, they said, and therefore a joint Jewish body should be set up and recognized as representing the Jewish people, as had been done in Germany.
Foreign Ministry sources say that the issue of returning property is a very sensitive one in Polish society today, and should be handled by Jewish organizations rather than the Israeli government.
There is a great deal of tension over German demands for possible restitution for German citizens who were forced to leave Poland, they say. However, the former Israeli ambassador to Poland, Shevah Weiss, said yesterday that there was a strong moral responsibility to return the property to the Jews of Poland.
"I don't believe the Poles will break off diplomatic relations over this moral issue," he said, "particularly in light of the fact that the elite in Poland certainly has an awareness of the issue and the readiness to make amends."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now