New Law in Poland Would End Property Restitution for Holocaust Survivors, Causing a New Crisis With Israel

The law, which still must pass through the Senate, would set a 30-year deadline on restitution, and in practice put an end to any further claims or appeals

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at The European Council Building in Brussels on Thursday.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at The European Council Building in Brussels on Thursday.Credit: Reuters
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Polish parliament passed a law on Thursday that would restrict the possibility of restitution claims for property stolen from Jews by the Nazis. The law will most likely renew the crisis in relations between Israel and Poland, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying, “This immoral law will seriously harm relations between the countries.”

“It is a horrific injustice and disgrace that harms the rights of Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and members of the Jewish communities that existed in Poland for hundreds of years. This is an incomprehensible action,” said Lapid. The Polish senate still has to pass the law for it to take effect.

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The U.S. State Department also criticized the new law in a statement on Friday, saying "We believe in the importance of settling Holocaust-era restitution issues to ensure fairness and equality for all victims. The decision of Poland’s parliament yesterday was a step in the wrong direction. We urge Poland not to move this legislation forward."

Earlier in the week, President Reuven Rivlin asked his Polish counterpart, President Andrzej Duda, to help in stopping the legislation. The Polish president is able to keep the law from receiving its final approval, or delay it by asking the constitutional court to examine it. Groups and officials in the United States are also working to keep the law from taking effect.

Yair Lapid speaking before the Yesh Atid caucus in Jerusalem this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Under the new law, outstanding claims for the restitution of property seized during the Holocaust – that have not reached a final decision in the last 30 years – will be halted or dismissed. In addition, new appeals of administrative decisions made over 30 years will also be forbidden.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization came out against the legislation earlier in the week. “The new bill 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.

While 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.

Poland’s relations with Israel took a sharp turn for the worse in 2018, when the so-called Holocaust Speech Law was passed in Poland, which was meant to punish those who blame the Polish nation for Nazi war crimes. Lapid, who was then an MK, directly confronted the Polish ambassador to Israel, and said “there were Polish death camps” during World War II.

After the law was “softened” a bit – essentially making it a civil offense rather than a criminal one to assert that the Polish nation bears responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust – because of an agreement reached between the two countries, Lapid said the Poles should ask for forgiveness from the dead.

Ben Samuels contributed to this report

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