Returning Property to Jews Would Be a Victory for Hitler, Polish Prime Minister Says

Morawiecki, leader of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, says compensation would be an inversion of victim and perpetrator

Thousands of Polish nationalists march to the U.S. Embassy, in Warsaw, Poland, May 11, 2019.
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that compensating Polish Jews for damages they suffered in Word War II would be a victory for Adolf Hitler.

His controversial statement, made a few days before the election to the European Parliament, joins a string of other statements made in recent years, which have evoked criticism in Israel and among world Jewry.

In a political rally in Lodz, Morawiecki said that as long as his Law and Justice Party is in power, Poland would not compensate anyone for anything that happened during the war. “If someone says that Poland must pay for damages, we won’t agree to this,” he said.

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Morawiecki went on to say that Poland being forced to pay for war damages would be an inversion of criminals (Germany) and victims (Poland). This would be contrary to international law and would constitute “a posthumous victory for Hitler.”

Material compensation for war damages, including the return of property taken from Polish Jews, has recently returned to headlines, renewing tensions between Poland and Israel. Earlier this month, Poland made a last minute cancellation of the arrival of an Israeli delegation planned to discuss the return of Jewish property with the Polish government. The cancellation stemmed from Poland’s refusal to discuss the matter, arguing that it was Germany who confiscated Jewish property.

Later in the month, Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, was spat on by an Israeli resident from Herzliya. When questioned by police, the man said that he’d gone to the embassy in Tel Aviv to inquire about the return of his property but was insulted by a guard. The man is being prosecuted, but has apologized to the ambassador. The incident evoked sharp criticism in Poland and was condemned by the prime minster and by President Andrzej Duda.

In recent months, Poland has been demanding that Germany compensate it for war damages, but Germany has rejected these claims. The right-wing Law and Justice Party is promoting a narrative according to which both Poles and Jews were victims of the Nazis.

Sources in Israel, mainly the head of the Association of Polish emigres to Israel, Lilly Haber, note that Jewish property seized by the Nazis after Poland’s conquest in 1939 was nationalized by the Polish Communist government after WWII. Since then, Poland has made it difficult to get it back.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization notes that Poland is the only country that has not passed a law regulating the return of seized property or addressed the topic on a government level. The seized property belonged to three million Polish Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, and to hundreds of thousands of survivors who left it behind. Its value could be as high as hundreds of billions of dollars.

Morawiecki has a history of controversial statements relating to Poland’s Jews and the war. He said last year that there “were also Jewish criminals” during the Holocaust, comparing Jewish collaborators to Polish ones.