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Debate simmers regarding restitution of Polish property

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ROME, Nov. 24 (JTA) – An article in the Israeli press about restitution efforts in Poland has touched off angry denials from Polish Jewish leaders. The leaders described as “misinformation” a report recently published in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz about the restitution of communal property in Poland. The newspaper had reported that the communal properties, worth some $3 billion, would be divided equally among the Polish Jewish community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and other organizations. But the Polish Jewish leaders questioned the total and said only the Polish Jewish community has the right to claim the prewar properties. One leading Polish Jew called the report “false and destructive” and expressed concern that it could have negative repercussions in Poland. “It sounds as if we were expecting $3 billion and the matter was how to divide it,” Stanislaw Krajewski, a member of the board of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, told JTA from Warsaw. In New York, Elan Steinberg, a board member of the WJRO, confirmed that the WJRO and the Polish Jewish representatives had not discussed any specific amount. He said an agreement had been reached last month under which the money would be divided into thirds. According to Steinberg, one-third of the money would go to the nine existing Jewish communities in Poland, one-third would be administered by a joint foundation to be headed by Jewish American philanthropist Ronald Lauder, and a decision had yet to be made on who would receive the remaining one-third. Steinberg said he was unsure how the foundation would distribute its share of the money, mentioning that dividing it among Polish Holocaust survivors currently living outside of Poland is one possibility. Such a decision would likely be unpopular among the Polish Jewish leadership. The union issued a statement noting that under Poland’s restitution law, only the Jewish communities that are members of the union have the right to claim the property. The law does not deal with private property lost by individual Jews. “We always thought that the WJRO negotiators meant it when they said that the money will be left in Poland for the cemeteries, renovations, taking care of the legacy of Polish Jews and helping the Jewish communities to survive,” Krajewski said. (JTA staff writer Peter Ephross contributed to this report.)

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