Warsaw Publishes First List of Homes Unclaimed by pre-WWII Owners

People have six months to file claim and then three months to prove ownership, but must have already lodged previous claim on property

Prozna Street, in the heart of what was Warsaw's Jewish quarter before World War II, in Warsaw, Poland.
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

The Warsaw municipality on Wednesday published the first section of a list of properties whose pre-World War II owners have never been located.

Under a law enacted by the Polish government last year, the owners or their heirs will have six months to file claims from the day the list is published, and then another three months to prove their claim. The narrow window has drawn strong criticism from experts specializing in restitution.

If no claim is filed within six months, the property will be transferred to either the Polish state or the Warsaw municipality.

However, claims can be filed only by people who previously submitted a claim to the asset in question, but whose claim got lost in the Polish bureaucracy and was never processed. In other words, the list is relevant only to people seeking to reactivate an existing claim, not for people seeking to file new claims.

The list will eventually contain some 2,600 properties. But the section published Wednesday only contained 48 houses.

The remainder will be published over the coming months both in the Polish media and on the municipality’s website.

The list is organized according to the name of the Warsaw street on which the property is located. It includes a description of each property and its legal situation, in both Polish and English. Though it isn’t a list of Jewish assets specifically, it is likely to include many homes that were owned by Jews before the Holocaust.

Mariola Hawel-Tocker – a Polish and Israeli lawyer who specializes in restitution of Holocaust-era property – told Haaretz last December that the publication of the list isn’t actually intended to restore Jewish property, but rather to nationalize it.

“It will forestall the possibility of returning the property to Polish Jews,” she warned, because the timetable it sets out is “impossible.”

Gideon Taylor, head of operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, urged the Polish government on Wednesday to grant people more time to file their claims. He also urged it to enact legislation aimed specifically at returning Jewish property lost in the Holocaust, as other European states have done.

The list consists exclusively of Warsaw properties that were confiscated by the Communist government after World War II. Throughout their decades in power, the Communists rejected most demands for the properties’ return.

Since the Communist regime fell in 1989, thousands of Jewish homes have been restored to their former owners or their heirs thanks to individual suits filed by the claimants in Polish courts. In recent years, though, the Polish media has repeatedly reported on corruption scandals related to the return of such assets – including the takeover of Jewish-owned properties by criminals.

As a result, the Polish government sought to create an orderly process that would settle these claims once and for all.