Israel Asks Poland to Change Bill Denying Compensation for Most Holocaust Survivors

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A building in Warsaw, Poland that belonged to Jews prior to World War II, 2016.
A building in Warsaw, Poland that belonged to Jews prior to World War II, 2016. Credit: Czarek Sokolowski / AP

Israel formally asked Poland on Thursday to change a proposed property restitution law that would discriminate against Holocaust survivors and their families living in Israel.

Foreign Ministry officials submitted the request at a meeting with Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Jacek Chodorowicz. On Friday, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, will lodge an official protest with the Polish Justice Ministry in Warsaw.

“We welcome the Israeli government’s request to the Polish government to amend the draft law on property restitution,” said Gideon Taylor, a senior executive of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. “This is a matter of justice, and we ask the Polish government to amend the proposed legislation to ensure that it is fair to all claimants, including Holocaust survivors and their relatives in Israel and abroad.”

The bill, which was the Polish government unveiled earlier this month, is meant to settle the issue of restitution for property nationalized by the Communist regime after World War II. But it has outraged Jewish organizations around the world because it contains several provisions that would deny any compensation to many former Polish Jews and their heirs, including victims of the Holocaust.

One such provision states that only someone who is currently a Polish citizen can seek compensation for property nationalized in the past. In addition, the claimant must prove that he was a citizen and resident of Poland at the time the property was nationalized.

A visitor to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews looks at an image of a site that used to be part of the Jewish district in pre-World War II Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, March 27, 2014.Credit: AP

Moreover, if the owner has died, only direct descendants – children or grandchildren – can submit compensation claims, and even then, the heir submitting the claim must be a Polish citizen. But many people who perished in the Holocaust have no direct descendants.

Another provision in the bill stipulates that people would have only a year from when the legislation is passed to submit their claims.

Finally, the compensation on offer is only a fraction of the property’s real worth – 20 percent of its value at the time it was confiscated. There is no option of recovering the property itself.

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