Poland shelving property compensation plans


BERLIN (JTA) — Poland is shelving plans to compensate former property owners — among them Holocaust survivors — for assets confiscated during the communist period.

The announcement by Poland’s state treasury was met with "shock and dismay" by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which represents survivors and their heirs.

"Given the current economic situation, work on this draft legislation cannot be continued," a Polish official announced on March 9, the French news agency AFP reported.

Such a law could make Poland exceed the European Union’s public debt ceiling of 60 percent of the gross domestic product, the treasury said.

But Poland has one of the strongest economies in Europe today, said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, in a statement issued March 13.

"For us, this is an issue of justice and not money," Lauder said.

The issues of restitution and compensation in Poland have been under discussion for almost two decades, according to Lauder. Legislation has been on the table since 2008.

Now, despite Poland’s relative economic security in Europe, its leaders are "telling many elderly prewar landowners, including Holocaust survivors, that they have no foreseeable hope of even a small measure of justice for the assets that were seized from them," Lauder said.

Poland’s property-owners’ association estimates Jewish claims to be about 17 percent of the total value of  $22 billion to $24 billion in confiscated property that has yet to be returned, according to AFP.

"We definitely hope that the Polish government will reconsider its decision," David Peleg, director general of the WJRO, told JTA in a telephone interview from Israel. Diplomatic channels are being used to get this message across, he added. "Relations between Poland and Israel are very good, and we hope this also will help."

The negative decision "will make waves among Jewish communities all over the world, because you find Jews of Polish origin who are survivors," he said.

Meanwhile, "Golden Harvest," a new essay by Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, suggests that the plundering and murder of Jews by Polish civilians was widespread under the Nazi occupation.

The essay, which hit bookstores this week, argues that Poles essentially profited from the Holocaust by robbing Jews in hiding or on the run or by plundering mass graves of Jews in search of gold.

Though more Jews were rescued by righteous gentiles in Poland than in any other country, Gross estimates that tens of thousands of Jews were either murdered by Poles or were handed over by them to Nazi authorities.

Gross’ 2001 book, "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland," shook Polish society. Public protests against Gross’ latest essay include calls for a boycott of the Krakow publisher, ZNAK.

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