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Former Wwii Refugee to Sue Poland to Reclaim Property Seized After War

August 5, 1999
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A refugee from Nazi Germany who found sanctuary in Britain just before World War II says he will sue the Polish government for confiscating his family’s property after the war.

Peter Koppenheim, 68, of Manchester, said his father and grandfather abandoned a thriving property business in Breslau when they fled from Nazi persecution in February 1939.

But Koppenheim’s claim is not linked to his family’s flight from the Nazis. Rather, he is targeting the Polish government for its postwar conduct when Breslau was transferred to Poland and renamed Wroclaw.

Koppenheim, who asserts that many Jewish properties were officially handed over to non-Jewish Poles, has accused the Polish government of pursuing a policy of “ethnic cleansing,” which he says has been continuing for the past 54 years.

Polish Jews who fled their homes allege that, long after the end of World War II, those who attempted to reclaim their property were murdered, beaten, raped, tortured and forced to abandon their quest.

Koppenheim, who has joined 10 U.S. citizens in an action in New York, believes that by bringing a separate case in London, other British Jews whose property was confiscated by the Polish authorities will be encouraged to stake their claims.

The Polish government is contesting the claims.

“There are many other people who suffered a similar fate to me and my family,” Koppenheim said.

Koppenheim’s multimillion-dollar claim relates to 11 properties in former German territory, now part of Poland, and includes the town mansion his family was forced to flee in 1939.

This property was destroyed by Russian forces at the end of the war because it had been used by the Germans to snipe at the advancing Red Army.

Koppenheim’s claim also includes compensation for, or the return of, a five- storey office block in central Wroclaw, which had formed part of the Koppenheim family’s portfolio of properties.

The building was sold to a Polish steel manufacturing company in 1991, despite protests from Koppenheim and his lawyers.

“We wrote to the Polish government and told them that what was happening was illegal, but the sale went ahead anyway,” Koppenheim said.

This will be the first such action in a British court and, if successful, it is expected to trigger hundreds of other claims — and seriously embarrass the Polish government at a time when it is striving to prove it is worthy of full membership of the European Union.

Koppenheim, who now runs a small property business in England, said any compensation he receives will be donated to the Neve Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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