Israel Reprimands Polish Ambassador Over Holocaust Restitution Legislation

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Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski with President Reuven Rivlin, 2018.
Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski with President Reuven Rivlin, 2018.Credit: Marc Neuman/GPO

The Foreign Ministry summoned Poland’s ambassador to Israel on Sunday amid anger over legislation in Warsaw that critics say would prevent Jewish restitution claims for property stolen by the Nazis.

Alon Bar, the Foreign Ministry’s political director, summoned Marek Magierowski to voice the ministry’s opposition to the legislation passed in Poland’s lower house of parliament, saying that it will affect Israel-Poland relations if it is made law. Bar told Magierowski that what was at stake was not a historical dispute, but rather Poland’s moral duty toward former citizens whose property was seized or nationalized during the Holocaust or under Communist rule, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the legislation, outstanding claims for the restitution of property seized during the Holocaust that have not reached a final decision in the last 30 years would be halted or dismissed. In addition, new appeals of administrative decisions made over 30 years ago would also be forbidden.The law is expected to limit restitution claims on Jewish-owned land that was taken by the Nazis and nationalized after World War II by Poland’s Communist regime. Officials from the World Jewish Restitution Organization said the bill, if passed, would make it virtually impossible for Holocaust survivors and families to challenge decisions over stolen property, and claimed that it would adversely affect 90 percent of such property claims.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed the legislation on Friday, calling it a “direct and painful blow to the rights of Holocaust survivors and their descendants,” “immoral,” and “a disgrace.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki subsequently said at a press conference: “I can only say that as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will certainly not pay for German crimes. Not a single zloty, euro or dollar.”

Lapid responded to the Polish prime minister's statement, saying, "The Polish prime minister should check the facts again. On Polish land, millions of Jews were murdered and no legislation will erase their memories. We are not interested in Polish money, and the very insinuation is antisemitic. We are fighting for the memory of Holocaust victims, for our national pride, and we will not allow any parliament to pass laws that are aimed at denying the Holocaust."

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek accused Israel of blackmailing Poland over the issue. In an interview with his country's state television station TVP Info, he claimed that, "Israel is putting pressure on Poland to stop work on the [restitution law]... Israel is using a kind of blackmail wrapped up in historical lies, manipulating facts and abusing the memory of the victims."

The World Jewish Restitution Organization has said the legislation “would make it virtually impossible for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish rightful property owners, to obtain restitution of, or compensation for, property unlawfully taken away during the Holocaust and Communist periods,” and 90 percent of property claims will be adversely affected by it.

The law does not explicitly apply only to Jews, but the WJRO fears that Holocaust survivors will be the main victims of the law, after their property was seized by the Nazis during World War II and was then nationalized by the Communists after the war.

The organization rejects Poland's arguments that it is Germany that is responsible to compensate the Jews for the property confiscated in the Holocaust. The group has stepped up criticism of Poland, saying that Warsaw is not working to restore Jewish-owned property and has even stood in the way of such efforts.

"The legislation is about confiscations that were carried out by the Communist authorities after the war, and is not related to the terrible actions that Germany took in Poland during the war," Gideon Taylor, the WJRO's chairman of operations said in a statement. "The house or shop or factory in a town in Poland affected by this legislation was not taken by Germany. It was taken by Poland. It sits today in Poland and its use has benefitted Poland for over 70 years. It is time to recognize this fact and for Poland to do justice for those who suffered so much."

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