Poland fails on holocaust restitution


Poland fails on holocaust restitution

Poland is failing to deliver on the restitution of property to the children of Polish Jewry’s holocaust victims, argues Raya Kalenova.

The Holocaust was the greatest industrial and systematic mass murder in modern history.

It was not only an attempted genocide; it also resulted in one of the greatest thefts, perpetrated proudly and openly by the Nazis and their collaborators.

However, while it is impossible to bring back any of those murdered, some semblance of justice can be retained if governments put equitable restitution measures in place.

Several European governments have come to understand that they have a legal and moral responsibility of returning or providing compensation for the property and assets taken from murdered or fleeing Jews.

But almost uniquely, the Polish government has consistently failed to establish comprehensive private restitution regime for properties stolen during the Holocaust.

Before the Shoah, an estimated 3.3 million Jews – by far the largest Jewish community in Europe at the time – lived in Poland. From Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland to the end of the war in 1945, more than 90 percent of Poland’s Jews were murdered.

Survivors who tried to return home following the war were often met with hostility, if not outright attacks, only to find their property had been seized and their family inheritance was gone.

Despite pledges to the contrary, Poland remains the only nation in Europe to make it almost nearly impossible and to place unimaginable roadblocks on the heirs of those murdered during the Holocaust to recover their assets.

Communism, but not fascism

Thus, a new proposed Polish law aimed at compensating people whose property was seized under communism, excluding most Polish Holocaust survivors and their heirs, is a mere continuation of a policy which seeks to avoid any manner of restitution, moral responsibility or justice.

And while the restitution bill itself makes no explicit reference to Holocaust survivors in its wording, its provisions seem to have their exclusion in mind.

Poland’s justice ministry recently published a bill, which requires that claimants be Polish citizens and limits compensation to spouses, children and grandchildren.

These provisions would exclude the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and their families because most left Poland during or after World War II and settled elsewhere and because of the Holocaust’s extensive annihilation, the heirs of seized properties are often nieces or nephews rather than direct descendants.

With the new law, the Polish government seems to have cemented its view of restitution issues as an obstacle course rather than a clear path for Holocaust victims and their heirs to access their rights.

Moreover, recourse to the court system provides little avail. In the words of Holocaust survivor Hania Rosenberg: “We did go to the courts, but it was like a carousel: You go around and around and around and around. You have to produce the documents that they need, and then it is not enough. There are always more documents you need to provide.”

As a signatory of the Terezin Declaration, Poland committed itself to “address[ing] the private property claims of Holocaust victims concerning immovable property of former owners, heirs, successors, by either restitution or compensation … in a fair, comprehensive and non-discriminatory manner.”

In light of this, the behaviour of the Polish government is deeply problematic. The new restitution bill appears to demonstrate an apparent disregard for the suffering of the victims of the Shoah, and contempt for justice, security, property rights, and the rule of law.

The Polish government needs to clearly demonstrate that its commitment to the intent of the Terezin Declaration goes hand in hand with real action.

Warsaw must meet its obligations, legal, historic, and moral. It should no longer be able to sidestep its commitments. It must amend some of the provisions in this law to allow the families of Holocaust victims to claim what is rightfully theirs.

Although the Polish government states that it constructs legislation for all citizens regardless of background, this is not a little disingenuous.

In a resolution adopted last week, the European Parliament expressed concerns “over the rapid legislative developments taking place in many areas without proper consultations or the possibility of an independent and legitimate constitutional review, thus risking the systematic undermining of fundamental human rights, democratic checks and balances and the rule of law”.

Part of a Polish pattern

Alas, Poland’s restitution bill seems to be a continuation of this pattern.

As the authors of a study by the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) said earlier this year, accusing Poland of being the most egregious example of a failure to live up to the declarations: “Ordinary laws apply to ordinary events. But the Holocaust was an extraordinary event, and it makes little sense to apply ordinary laws to a situation in which so much heirless property suddenly came into existence as a result of the mass murder of millions of people.”

The Polish government should immediately rectify this situation and demonstrate that they have finally come to terms with what happened on its soil several decades ago.

The survivors and many of their heirs are beginning to dwindle, and this might be the last chance for Poland to change its attitude towards the restitution of stolen private property during the Holocaust.

2.70 avg. rating (55% score) - 27 votes
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    Raya Kalenova
    Raya Kalenova is executive vice-president of the European Jewish Congress.
    • Major Bonkers

      Meanwhile, in the real world, the Polish government has just given 100m. zloty (about £20m.) to preserve Warsaw’s Jewish cemetery:


      I can’t really see what good race-hustling articles like this do. If I was to concoct an equally foolish and offensive argument – for example that the Jewish Ghetto Uprising in 1943 caused a large amount of property damage which should now be reimbursed by the State of Israel – I’d be rightly ignored. So should you be, Miss. Kalenova.

    • jkarna

      You conveniently omit the fact that Stalin invaded Poland and the two socialist / communist dictatorships carved up Poland. Their objective was to eliminate us from history. The fault lies with Germany. Many of their industrial companies worked with the National Socialist Party, benefited and are now household names.

      You should try and get compensation from Russia (good luck there) as they persecuted and murdered Jews.
      Vichy France and other collaborating Western Euroepean countries contributed to the persecution and murder of Jews.
      Poland has never received compensation from Russia and Germany for their crimes against humanity. Many Polish people died saving Jews and as in all societies, we had our bad elements. You will note that
      Poland has the highest ranking in the Righteous Among the Nations. My grandparents were mudered by the Russians. My father was sent to a Siberian concentration camp and my mother who was eleven years old at the time of the German / Russian invasion was sent a forced labour camp next to Dachau. There she was raped by a Jewish paedophile.

      She was offered $50 in compensation by an organization in Switzerland. Switzerland collaborated with the Nazis.

    • Billy Lindner

      One can only marvel at the idiocy of Zionists who seem bent on making enemies wherever they can. Most Jews I know understand that Israel cannot survive in a state of perpetual war with 25% of the world’s population, and the longer a two-state solution is delayed, the more likely Israel’s eventual collapse.

    • ScaryBiscuits

      It seems that Christmas good will is in short supply in Brussels. Either that or it’s just a spooky coincidence that Poland is having a disagreement with the EU and all of a sudden articles start appearing in the press accusing them of being Nazi sympathisers? It reminds me of Brexit.

    • lojolondon

      A brief history lesson. 3m Jews lived in Poland, then Poland was invaded by Russia and Germany during WW2. Both countries treated Poles as sub-humans, both murdered millions of Poles, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It defies belief that anyone thinks Poland benefited in any way from Nazism or Communism or from killing Jews and stealing from them between 1939 and now.

    • Ian Logan

      Please redirect your complaints to Mrs Merkel and her Berliner Kameraden.

    • kingcrimson

      Worked with a Polish man for ten years in the 1970s he fought for the allies for the length of the war , his view was that Hitlers one virtue was that the Jews were removed from Poland..

    • David davis

      I’d also be interested to know to what extent the _/puppet governments/_ of West European Nazi-occupied countries (such as Vichy France in particular, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Italy, and so on) have compensated the descendents and relatives of Jews rounded up and transported to death camps in the East.

      In some human mitigation, I know that often in Italy, the local Italian Police would tip off Jewish familes to try to escape before arrest, but I don’t know about the others I named. And that Denmark did a lot to extricate most of its Jews to Sweden.

    • Bogbrush

      What’s the Holocaust got to do with Poland? That was the Germans wasn’t it?

      The Communist stuff is an issue for the Poles because, though in thrall to the Russians, it was nonetheless a Polish government that implemented any policies.

      In any case if everyone whose ancestors property was destroyed or confiscated by the Germans in WW2 are going to sue then half of London will be getting involved, plus Liverpool, Coventry, etc., plus anyone whose parents were killed.

      It was a disgusting war and appalling things happened. True restitution is impossible.

    • andy

      Six million Polish citizens were killed in WW2 of whom half were of the Jewish faith the other three million were mainly Christian Atheist and even Muslim. An estimated two million from eastern were shipped out to the soviet gulag, where most died. The survivors formed the Polish 2nd Army Corps of which some 175,000 settled in the UK post war having experienced socialism under the USSR.

      Stalin took the eastern landa away and substituted formerly German territories in the west. Pole and their descendants from the east lost land and property. In the west German’s lost property.

      Germany destroyed 80% of Poland’s economic capacity the USSR dominated eastern block coerced the write off of reparations between Poland and the DDR. The unified Germany claims it inherited this forced write off.

      Both the descendants of Jewish and Christian Poles live with this situation, as do the displaced Germans.

    • alecto

      I don’t see now this can be resolved and isn’t time to draw a line and move on? Those people who had their property stolen are long dead. Nieces and nephews wanting a slice of their ancesor’s goods seems more like a moneygrabbing exercise to me. How can one heal if you keep picking at the wound?

      • timbo_21

        I imagine there will be a great many chancers who will try to make claims in anticipation of some financial windfall.

    • Andy

      Compensation is a matter for the German Government and Russian as it was these two States which invaded Poland. Nor does the present day Polish State have the same borders as the one the Germans and Russians invaded. The moral responsibility for all of the rest where it always has: in Berlin.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      So, the national socialists kill millions of Poles.
      Then the International socialists come along and oppress the Poles under their iron boot for a further 5 decades.

      And somehow this is the fault of the current, very not socialist Polish government for not paying for the atrocities of other nations.

      Here’s an idea:
      Take up your issue with Berlin and Moscow seeing as they are the ones that perpetrated this reign of terror on Poland!

    • David davis

      By no conceivable means can it be possible to argue that the Holcaust, insofar much of it took place inside what (had been) Poland until late 1939 when Stalin and Hitler carved it up, was an act attributable to the Polish State. All European Holocaust deaths and destruction are the work of Nazi Germany, aided and not impeded by (and indeed if not actually assisted by) a gleefl and grinning Soviet Russia. It’s also rather fanciful to suppose that many Polish citizens remaining alive in 1939 got posession of former Jewish properties. If you were a Nazi or a Communist, who’d you allot the gear to first then?
      No. All compensation for this dreadful event must come from Germany and Russia. I don’t expect Lithuania and Latvia will exactly come out of a proper restitution smelling of roses either.

      • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

        My Aunts Evie and Bec told me avery different story about their former home in Lublin where it became normal for Polish citizens to use Jewish babies’ heads for footballs and indeed a few years ago the Prime Minister of Poland courageously admitted this.

        Look it up.

        • Dawn

          Could you post a link because when I searched this several different ways/word combinations nothing at all came up, which makes me wonder if you are just a troll?

          • ScaryBiscuits

            Did you seriously need to ask this?

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