(JTA) – The Polish government has published draft legislation on the return of confiscated property that would exclude most Holocaust survivors and their families.
The bill, which was announced Friday, would require claimants to be citizens living in Poland and exclude all heirs except “first-line heirs,” meaning spouses, children or grandchildren. Most Jews who survived the Holocaust left Poland and neither they nor their children and grandchildren currently live in Poland. Other survivors or their offspring who may want to claim family property are not first-line heirs.
Some 90 per cent of Polish Jewry was killed during the Holocaust.
The bill bars claims by foreign citizens if they were eligible for compensation under postwar bilateral treaties between their country and Poland, even if they did not file claims. Most survivors were not eligible to file claims under these treaties, but even those who were often did not know that such a possibility existed.
Also, the legislation eliminates the possibility of return of the actual property, or of substitute property, and limits compensation to 20 per cent of the value of the property in cash or vouchers, or 25 per cent in Polish government bonds.
The heads of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) expressed their disappointment about the legislation in a statement.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the Polish government’s proposal excludes the vast majority of Polish Holocaust survivors and their families, wrote Ronald Lauder, its chair, and Gideon Taylor, its operation chair. “Polish Holocaust survivors and their families were an integral part of Polish life for centuries. Their property is often their last tangible connection with the life they lived before the destruction of the Holocaust. We strongly urge the Polish government to ensure that the legislation, when introduced to the Parliament, will have eligibility criteria and a claims process that are fair and just to those who suffered and lost so much.”
Poland is the only major country in Europe that has 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.
In 1997, Poland 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 has still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO said.
Restitution experts estimate that following the Holocaust, Jewish individuals and institutions in Poland lost property with a combined value exceeding $1 billion US.