International group to administer Jewish property returned in Poland

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (JTA) — An intra-Jewish controversy over the return of communal properties in Poland has been resolved. A deal reached last week between Poland’s Jewish community and international Jewish groups provides for the return of 5,500 properties, including schools, synagogues, hospitals, cultural centers and cemeteries, over the next four years to a joint foundation. The foundation will be administered by the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland. Last year, Jewish groups and the Polish government agreed to such a foundation, but Polish Jewish leaders later balked at the arrangement. The agreement, reached after a marathon three-day negotiating session in Poland, marks the last major deal on the return of Jewish communal property in Eastern Europe. Previous agreements have been reached over the last few years on the return of property in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic. “They realized that they alone cannot reclaim the properties by themselves,” said Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the American Federation of Polish Jews, adding that the WJRO will provide legal and administrative help in determining what to do with the properties. The foundation, to be headed by philanthropist Ronald Lauder, will work to preserve Jewish heritage and promote Jewish tradition through educational, religious, social and cultural activities. It will also seek to improve the living conditions of Polish Jews in need of assistance. Lauder heads another foundation that has been active in recent years rebuilding Jewish life in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland. Sultanik, who served as chairman of the negotiating session, hailed the agreement as a “major achievement from the point of view of Jewish relations with the Jewish communities of Poland.” Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews live in Poland today.

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