The Polish Supreme Court ruled this week that a church in the city of Tarnów, near Krakow, was built on land stolen illegally from its proper owners – a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
Her daughter, the heir to the property who lives in Australia, is now waiting for a decision on the compensation she will receive from the Roman Catholic Church.
The Supreme Court decision was a defeat for Poland's justice minister, who in an exceptional move intervened in the case. In his role as prosecutor general, he ordered the matter reopened, after two lower courts – and the Supreme Court – ruled time after time that the heir, Dr. Ann Drillich, is the rightful legal owner of the property.
The Justice Ministry claimed that the Drillich’s lawsuit was filed too late, so the rulings are invalid. Now, the Supreme Court has rejected the appeal and confirmed that the property was taken from its Jewish owners illegally.
“I feel relieved that this chamber of the Supreme Court refused to overturn previous court decisions establishing that the church illegally occupies my family’s land,” she told Haaretz. But Drillich added that she is also “frustrated, because the parish has gone to extreme and even appalling lengths to obstruct justice,” even after the courts ordered the church to return the property or compensate her.
On the eve of World War II, about 25,000 Jews lived in Tarnów, making up about half the population. The Germans conquered it on September 8, 1939 and began persecuting Jews almost immediately.
They banished the Goldman family from its estate in 1941 and expelled it to the ghetto. Everyone in the family was murdered in the Holocaust save for Drillich’s mother, Blanka Goldman. Blanka managed to escape the ghetto and return home. A Polish neighbor risked his life and that of his family to help her escape the Nazis and find a hiding place.
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In 1945, at the end of the war, Blanka Goldman was recognized by the Polish authorities – now under communist rule – as the sole inheritor of the family estate, which the Nazis had plundered.
Blanka, who was 20 then, spent three years living on the family estate she had inherited. However, she emigrated in 1948 to Australia because of local antisemitism. In Australia, she married another Holocaust survivor from Tarnów, named Henryk Drillich, and raised a family with him.
In her absence, the Polish Catholic neighbor who had saved her life and was recognized as a Righteous Among The Nations, took care of the family assets she had left behind with her power of attorney.
In 1973, after years of battling depression that had gripped her since she saw her mother shot in her bed in the ghetto, Blanka put an end to her life. She left behind her husband and two adolescent children.
Later, relatives say, the Polish neighbor exploited her absence from Poland to take control of the land he was supposed to protect. He sold half and donated the second half to the Catholic Church.
Drillich, Blanka's daughter, heard about the affair in 2010 and embarked on a long battle to reclaim the stolen property. After several courts, dozens of hearings, appeals and legal procedures, judges of a district court in Poland decided in her favor in 2016.
The Supreme Court later confirmed this ruling, but she has not yet received her property back and is waiting for the injustice to be set right.
“I wonder what Pope Francis would say about the actions of this parish,” Drillich told Haaretz.