WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — An independent think tank that monitors restitution issues reported that Poland is the only European Union nation that does not comply with an international understanding allowing for the return of Jewish property seized during World War II.
The authors of the report by the European Shoah Legacy Institute note that the countries of Western Europe, just after the war, had developed legislation that regulated the return of Jewish property. However, among Eastern European countries, Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina “stand alone as the only countries that have failed to establish a comprehensive private property restitution regime for property taken either during the Holocaust or Communist eras, or one that addresses both types of takings.”
The study notes that both countries established private property restitution legislation shortly after World War II, but adds that those measures were “short-lived.”
American Jews and non-Jews of former Polish citizenship, for example, have long complained that Poland’s restitution system is “especially cumbersome, challenging, time consuming and expensive for claimants outside of Poland,” as the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust issues explained in 2015.
The study, said to be the most comprehensive ever of immovable property restitution, found that most Western European states have complied or substantially complied with the principles of the Terezin Declaration, the 2009 agreement by 60 signatory countries that pledged to create laws that would help return plundered assets to Jewish victims and their heirs.
Poland had the largest Jewish population in prewar Europe before the Nazis occupied the country and murdered or exiled its Jews.
“[A]s long as the proceeds of mass theft that accompany a mass atrocity remain in the hands of those not entitled to it, post-Holocaust restorative justice demands that the stolen assets be returned to their rightful owners or heirs,” the study’s authors concluded.