July 25, 2021

New controversy between Poland and Israel

Once again, Poland’s difficult relationship with the history of World War II and the plight of its then Jewish nationals is poisoning its relations with Israel and the United States. Israeli and American diplomats accuse the Polish authorities of wanting to adopt a law which, according to them, would have the consequence of blocking the restitution of property that belonged to victims of the Shoah.

Adopted by the lower house on June 24, and now in the hands of the Senate, the text apparently only aims to limit to thirty years the period during which a “decision pronounced in flagrant violation of the law” can be annulled. It concerns in particular the decisions taken by the communist regime, such as nationalizations and expropriations made to the detriment of the former owners, and does not contain any explicit reference to “Jewish property”. But the project is causing great tension with Israel.

Read the archive (2019): Controversy between Israel and Poland over the memory of the Holocaust

“An immoral law”

“This immoral law will seriously affect relations between our states”, the Israeli embassy in Warsaw warned in a statement. “We believe in the importance of ensuring justice and equality for all victims in resolving Holocaust-related restitution issues. The Polish Parliament’s decision is a step in the wrong direction. We call on Poland not to continue examining the bill Added the spokesperson for the US Secretary of State.

While acknowledging that the provision will relate in particular to restitution cases, the ministry specifies that“It is not discriminatory” and that in addition “Poland bears no responsibility for the Shoah, which was a crime committed by the German occupiers”. The head of government, Mateusz Morawiecki, overbid by promising that “As long as he is prime minister, Poland will certainly not pay for German crimes.”

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The Polish Foreign Ministry emphasizes that this reform “Results from the need to implement a judgment of the Constitutional Court of May 2015”, or before the arrival in power of the conservative national government and the takeover of this jurisdiction by the new parliamentary majority. The courtyard asserted that the absence of such a limitation period undermined legal certainty.

Lawyer at Wardynski & Partners, representative of several restitution claimants, Radoslaw Wisniewski deplores the mix of responsibilities for the Shoah and for the loss of property, while, “Legally speaking, they have nothing to do with each other”. “On the territory of occupied Poland, the German state came into possession of property through confiscations, but at the end of the war the new communist regime annulled all these legal acts. On the other hand, it promulgated others like the agrarian reform and the nationalizations which dispossessed private owners. It is often the absence of compensation and the violation by the regime of its own rules that establish the responsibility of the Polish state ”, he adds.

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