Restitution group launches Warsaw database to counter limiting legislation


(JTA) — Responding to legislation deemed harmful to efforts to return privately owned Jewish property in Warsaw, a major restitution group said it was building a database to facilitate claims.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, announced the new tool Monday, three months after regulations went into effect that drastically limited the window for filing claims for property nationalized by the Polish government directly after the Holocaust, in which 90 percent of Polish Jewry was murdered. The regulations were based on recent legislation that gave prospective claimants of Warsaw property six months to come forward, the WJRO said.

Both the legislation and the database concern only 2,613 claims that were filed with Polish authorities many years ago but have remained dormant. Claimants to those properties received six months to restart the restitution process.

“To help property owners and their families, WJRO has created a unique new searchable database that for the first time puts together a number of historical records from Warsaw and allows a search for a property using an address or a family name,” the organization said in a statement.

Last June, the City of Warsaw published a list of 2,613 street addresses for open property claims, but without the names of the owners. WJRO’s database matches the street addresses with property owners’ names found in the 1939-40 Homeowners Directory for Warsaw or, where that was not possible, with the 1930 Homeowners Directory as well as through use of mortgage information, WJRO said.

“We are using research and modern technology in an effort to rectify historical wrongs,” said the WJRO’s chair of operations, Gideon Taylor, to “enable family members to reconnect with their past – often to homes that were in the thriving center of Jewish life in Warsaw” and are today of considerable value.

Despite the absence of legislation that addresses the problem of privately owned Jewish property in Poland, Polish courts have awarded compensation and restitution to several Jewish claimants in recent years. Several Polish lawyers and experts in the field told JTA that it was impossible to know how many of the claimants for restitution for such properties are Jewish.

In 1997, Poland passed a law for restitution on communal-owned properties, but more than 15 years after the claim filing deadline, a majority of more than 5,000 claims for such property has still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO said.

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