U.S. Senate Increases Pressure on Poland Over Confiscated Jewish Property

Poland is the only EU country that has not passed a 'comprehensive law' for property seized during WWII, a letter signed by 88 senators charges

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2019.
Alex Brandon/AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is increasing pressure on Poland over the country’s handling of property confiscated from its Jewish citizens during and after the Holocaust. On Monday, 88 senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking him to “help Poland resolve the issue” of compensation for Jewish citizens and their descendants. 

The letter notes that Poland is “the only country in the European Union that has not passed a comprehensive law for the restitution of private property” that was taken away from Jewish citizens. The Polish government has previously committed to the passage of such legislation, but hasn’t done so thus far. Now, an unusually large group of senators from both parties are calling on the Trump administration to make sure Poland fulfills its commitments.

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The recent letter comes amid a trend of warming ties between Poland and the United States under President Donald Trump. Earlier this year, Poland hosted an international conference organized by the White House to combat Iran. The conference was attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign minsters of several Arab countries, and was used by Netanyahu’s political campaign ahead of Israel’s election in April.

Poland is also seeking to be chosen as the host country of a large new NATO base in Europe, and has tried to lure Trump into supporting its bid by offering to call the base Fort Trump. Trump’s administration also shares a similar anti-immigration platform with the right-wing, nationalist government currently holding power in Warsaw.

Monday’s letter, signed by almost 90 percent of the Senate, calls on the administration to use its close relationship with Poland to encourage the country to finally pass comprehensive legislation on property that was confiscated from its Jewish citizens.

The senators note that while most of the property was confiscated by the German Nazi regime, much of it was later nationalized by the communist Polish government, and “in the decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jewish Holocaust survivors of Polish origin and their families, as well as others, have found it nearly impossible to reclaim or seek compensation for the property that was nationalized by the Polish communist regime.”

Among those who signed the letter are the leaders of the foreign relations and armed services committees — two panels that play an important role in Poland’s relationship with the United States — which could also have an impact on Poland’s wish to host the new NATO base. The letter doesn’t mention the NATO base, but there is concern in Poland that a confrontation with the Senate could harm the project, which would require budgets and authorizations from Congress.

The letter brought together senators from different ends of the ideological spectrum — Republican hawks such as Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Tom Cotton (Arizona), and isolationist Rand Paul (Republican of Kentucky), as well as self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders (Independent of Vermont).

One of the senators leading the effort is Tammy Baldwin (Democrat of Wisconsin), who praised Pompeo back in February for raising the restitution issue with the Polish government, and promised to “keep working to ensure justice for Holocaust victims, their families and heirs.”

Eric Gallagher, the Washington representative of the World Jewish Restoration Organization, praised the senators who signed the letter. He said it “demonstrates once again that the United States Congress has not forgotten about Holocaust survivors and remains steadfast in pursuing justice for them.”