Polish Families Demand Compensation for Auschwitz Land

But Warsaw is reluctant, and no laws or international agreements address the issue.

WARSAW – Heirs of the families whose lands and homes were confiscated by the Nazis to make room for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are seeking three million euros in compensation for their lost property from the Polish government.

It’s not by chance that they raised the issue less than two weeks before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. A major memorial will be held at the site of the former death camp, with official delegations from almost every European country, as well as the United States and Israel.

The Israeli delegation alone will include 60 Knesset members, led by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, as well as rabbis, Israel Defense Forces officers and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Avner Shalev.

Nevertheless, the families’ chances of obtaining satisfaction seem slim. The management of the Auschwitz-Birkenau national museum has announced that it has no connection to the issue. The Polish Finance Ministry rejected the compensation claim, advising the families to go to court if they think they have a case. “The issue of war damages caused by enemy action has to do with obligations between states, and ought to be dealt with in an international context,” the ministry said in a statement.

But in fact there is no bilateral agreement covering Polish property confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. Nor is the ministry’s suggestion about taking the case to court serious, since there is no law under which the families could claim compensation for their property and it’s highly doubtful the Polish legislature would pass legislation requiring the Polish treasury to cover damage caused by the Nazis.

In 2001, the German parliament authorized the payment of partial compensation for property seized at Auschwitz-Birkenau, through the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future foundation (also known by its German acronym EVZ). But the time-frame set for filing all the documents needed to support a claim was so short that most of the claimants – some 300 families in all – missed the deadline. Most of these families had suffered the loss of homes or farmland.