(JTA) – The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) cautiously welcomed a Polish official’s announcement of plans to offer partial compensation for property confiscated from private owners under communism.
Countless properties that belonged to Poland’s 3.3 million-strong Jewish population before the Holocaust were seized by the Nazi occupation forces and then nationalized under communism.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki announced plans for the legislation on Wednesday, marking a break from the government’s previous reliance on individual court rulings to determine restitution rather than through legislation.
Poland is the only major country in Europe that not passed national legislation for the restitution of property unjustly seized by the Nazis nor for property nationalized by the communist regime, according to the WJRO.
“I’m ashamed that it has taken Poland until now, 28 years after the fall of communism, to prepare such a bill. This should have been taken care of a long time ago,” the PAP news agency quoted Jaki as saying during a press conference in Warsaw Wednesday.
The law would allow for cash payments of up to 20 per cent of the value of privately-owned properties at the time of their “nationalization,” Jaki told the broadcaster TVN24, adding that the bill was “absolutely fair.”
Restitution experts estimate that following the Holocaust, Jewish individuals and institutions in Poland lost property whose combined value exceeds $1 billion US.
“We welcome the recognition today by Poland that national legislation is needed to address the issue of confiscated property,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chair of operations, said in a statement Thursday. “However, it is essential that restitution or compensation be full and complete and that it be just and fair for all who lost property, including Polish survivors of the Holocaust and their families,” the statement read.
WJRO has joined other vocal critics of Poland over its perceived failure even by Eastern European standards to offer Jewish victims of property theft during and after the Holocaust and their descendants neither adequate restitution nor procedures to obtain it.
In July, WJRO sharply criticized a Polish court’s ruling upholding restitution legislation whose language precluded countless Jewish would-be claimants.
The law, passed last year, precludes claims in Warsaw for former owners and their families who missed the 1988 communist-era deadline for filing claims, including those who fled abroad to escape communist rule or anti-Semitism.
Poland in 1997 passed a law for restitution on communal-owned properties, but more than 15 years after the claim filing deadline, a majority of more than 5,000 claims for such property has still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO said.