Polish Holocaust survivors and their heirs have a final chance to reclaim property lost during the Shoah.
A Jewish organization has launched a database aimed at helping thousands of Holocaust survivors or their heirs to regain property lost in Warsaw, Poland, due to the Holocaust as well as to the Communist regime that followed.
Under a new Polish law, people will have just six months to file claims for more than 2,600 properties in Warsaw after they are listed publicly in a newspaper or online, something expected to happen soon.
Not all of the properties belonged to Jews, but it is believed that many did.
Claimants who fail to come forward by the deadline will relinquish their rights, with the city to assume permanent ownership of unclaimed properties.
“There is now a very limited opportunity for some kind of justice for people who suffered so much,” said Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which created the database.
The new law, which entered into force in September, affects people who had property in Warsaw that they tried to reclaim after the war. At that time, the Communists seized much of the prewar property of Jews and non-Jews alike, making it impossible in practice for anyone to reclaim it. The Communist regime fell in 1989.
In the years since, some original owners have reclaimed lost property in complicated legal proceedings, but it has been more difficult for the Jews who fled Poland and settled abroad.
As the problem continues to fester, the city of Warsaw this year compiled a list of 2,613 street addresses that will be open to claims, but does not give the names of the original owners.
The new database matches the street addresses with the names found in historical records.
Taylor says it’s unclear how many properties had belonged to Jews, although he believes there must have been many. Warsaw was 30-percent Jewish before the war, and Jews were well-represented in the professional and property-owning classes.
Before the war, Poland was home to about 3.3 million Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe and the second-largest in the world after the United States. Most of them perished in the Holocaust.
Poland is the only European Union country that has so far failed to pass a national law that returns property to Holocaust survivors and to others dispossessed by the war or Communism.