Polish Lawmakers Give Initial Approval to Restitute Property Lost During the Holocaust

Country's ruling Law and Justice Party takes a stand against far-right attempts to block the state from complying with a U.S. request to compensate Holocaust survivors for property seized during WWII

Polish nationalists march to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, protesting U.S. pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust, May 11, 2019.
Czarek Sokolowski / AP

Polish lawmakers on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a draft bill which would block the Polish state from complying with a U.S. request to compensate Holocaust survivors for the value of unclaimed Jewish property remaining in state hands.

The bill, a citizens' initiative, aims to protect the Polish state against potential claims triggered by the U.S. JUST Act of 2017.

The act requires signatories to the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference to provide compensation for unclaimed Jewish property by, for instance, supporting Holocaust education or survivors in need.

In its justification, the bill states that requiring Poland to pay compensation would be "unfounded and glaringly unjust," as the state and its citizens were victims of German aggression during World War II and never received compensation themselves.

Critics of the bill doubt whether Poland should fear a flood of compensation claims, since the US Act did not single Poland out and did not say how the requirement should be enforced.

The bill passed the first of three readings with support from Poland's governing conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) and lawmakers from the right-wing Confederation party.

Despite voting it through, PiS had previously heavily criticized the bill, saying its initiators, who are associated with the far-right, want to undermine Poland's partnership with the U.S.

PiS lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk told parliament on Wednesday the party would work on the draft legislation only to show respect for the citizens' initiative.

The draft bill will now be handed to a parliamentary committee, which has no deadline for completing its work.