Diplomats summoned as criticism rises over Polish restitution law limitations

The bill will make it almost impossible for Jewish heirs to receive compensation for Holocaust-era property confiscated by the state.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Tit-for-tat diplomatic summons began Sunday over a law passed in Poland’s lower house of Parliament that would make it almost impossible for Jewish heirs of formerly-owned property in the country to receive compensation for their assets lost during the Holocaust.

Alon Bar, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Political-Strategic Department, summoned Ambassador Marek Magierowski to express Jerusalem’s “deep disappointment” with Thursday’s vote.

“This is not a historic dialogue about responsibility for the Holocaust,” he said. “Rather, it is a moral duty of Poland towards its former citizens, whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust and under Communist rule.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law “immoral” and “a disgrace,” saying that its passage “will severely damage relations between the two countries.”

He added that Israel expects Poland to adhere to the 2009 Terezin Declaration it signed along with other European countries, which declares that all relevant countries should work for the restoration of Jewish property looted during the Holocaust to either the victims or their heirs.

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“The fact that Poland is renouncing this declaration is extremely worrying and serious,” Lapid said about the legally nonbinding document.

In response, Warsaw announced that it would summon Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, charge d’affaires in the Israeli embassy on Monday, over what they view as “intervening in the internal affairs of a foreign state.”

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told state television that the summons was made “to explain to her in a decisive and factual way what [the law] is about.”

The Polish government is adamant that blame for the Holocaust rests solely upon the Germans who occupied their country throughout World War II. According to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, this includes not paying compensation for or restoring property lost as a result of “German crimes.”

“As long as I am prime minister, Poland will surely not pay for the German crimes. Not a zloty, not a euro, not a dollar,” he said on Friday.

Poland is the only post-Communist country in the EU that has never passed a property restitution law, claiming that individuals could always challenge unlawful administrative decisions regarding seizure of their assets. The current bill, which passed unanimously, although with 120 abstentions, sets a 30-year limit on appealing such decisions.

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German seizures ended with their retreat from the country during World War II. The Polish Communist government, which the USSR installed after it liberated Poland and nationalized an enormous amount of private property, was overthrown over 30 years ago.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), which represents world Jewry in pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish property outside of Germany and Austria, had called for the bill’s withdrawal before its vote.

‘The new bill would make it virtually impossible” for anyone, including non-Jews, to obtain restitution for property illegally confiscated either by the Germans or Communists, the organization said in a Tuesday statement.

Very few claimants had ever succeeded in challenging past decisions to begin with, the WJRO continued, and since the law applies retroactively, the courts will be able to immediately throw out many of the current cases that have been dragging on for years.

Poland stopped discussions over property restitution in 2019.