Polish government revisits draft legislation for restitution of property
The Polish Justice Ministry is reviewing draft legislation regarding restitution of property confiscated during and after the Holocaust, after the Standing Committee of the Council of Ministers returned it to the ministry for reconsideration.
President of the council Jacek Sadi tweeted on Sunday: “Dear sirs, there is no decision to discontinue the work on the restitution law. The project requires elaboration and further analysis to be carried out by the Justice Ministry.”
In October, the ministry published the draft legislation, announcing that it would be passed by the end of 2017. The limits of the legislation drew criticism from the Israeli government and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which said it would exclude the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and their families.
On Wednesday, the WJRO expressed concern over the delay of the law, as well as expressing hope that it will be improved.
“We are very concerned that this administrative step will delay passage of this legislation,” WJRO chairman of operations Gideon Taylor said on Wednesday. “Elderly Jewish and non-Jewish claimants who have waited over 70 years for justice for their lost property cannot wait any longer. We urge the government of Poland to quickly pass legislation that is just and fair for all who lost property, including Polish survivors of the Holocaust and their families.”
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki announced in October that the legislative proposals would grant cash compensation to those stripped of their property by the pro-Soviet communist regime that governed Poland following World War II. In many cases, property was initially looted by the Nazis and subsequently seized by the Communists.
The draft legislation requires that claimants currently be citizens of Poland, as well as having been residents in Poland at the time that their property was nationalized by the Communist regime.
A position paper submitted by the WJRO to the Justice Ministry explains that these provisions would exclude the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and their families.
Since the Communist authorities nationalized property between 1944 and 1962, the requirement of residency at that time bars survivors who left Poland during the Holocaust or at any point before the property was nationalized, the WJRO wrote. Furthermore, because most Holocaust survivors and their families do not currently hold Polish citizenship, even those survivors who were still residents and citizens at the time their property was nationalized are still likely to be excluded based on the requirement of having current citizenship.
In addition, only spouses and direct descendants can stake a claim to assets. Since many Jewish families were killed during the Holocaust, in various cases there are no living first-line heirs that could step forward and make a claim to properties, and siblings or nieces and nephews were often the only remaining heirs.
Of the few who would be considered as eligible to claim properties, they still will not be given their properties back entirely. Instead, a successful claim would result in them receiving 20% of the value of the property in cash or 25% in government bonds.
Claimants have a one-year deadline after which property would be transferred to the Polish Treasury.
Poland is the only major country in Europe that has not passed national legislation for the restitution of property seized by the Nazis nor for property nationalized by a Communist regime, said the WJRO.
In 1997, Poland passed a law for restitution on communal-owned properties, but long after the claims deadline, a majority of the more than 5,000 claims had still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO has said.
More than three million Polish Jews, around 90% of the pre-war population, were murdered in the Holocaust.