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Poland agrees to enhance Jewish property restitution

NEW YORK, July 22 (JTA) — Jewish groups and the Polish government have reached an agreement that will expand the restitution of communal property in Poland. Under the agreement, a foundation comprised of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and Jewish communities in Poland will be established to deal with the government on property restitution. Last November, Polish leaders expressed opposition to such a foundation, saying that only the nine existing Jewish communities can make claims on communal property. But the agreement allows the foundation to make claims on property that was held by all 1,500 communities that existed in Poland in 1939. Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust, and an estimated 8,000 Jews live in Poland today. Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, called the agreement a “fundamental breakthrough.” The foundation is expected over the next five years to submit claims for the return of at least 6,000 pieces of Jewish communal property now in the possession of the Polish government. These properties include old synagogues, cemeteries, schools and mikvahs. Many of these properties exist in areas of Poland where no Jews currently live. The foundation will ask for the return of property “whether or not there is a Jewish community there now,” Steinberg said. If property cannot be returned, Steinberg said he expects that the Polish government will offer compensation. Returned properties that are no longer of use to the Jewish community will be sold. Proceeds will go primarily to aid Holocaust survivors in Poland, Steinberg said.

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