For the first time, the city of Warsaw has published a list of 48 properties eligible to be reclaimed by their pre-World War II owners or heirs. The catch: the claim must be filed within six months of Feb. 22 and claimants then have just three months to prove they are the rightful owners.
About 400,000 Jews lived in Warsaw before the war — about one-third of the city’s population. Jews are believed to have owned most of the 48 properties, which the Nazis seized following their invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Only about 10 percent of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews survived the war.
Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an umbrella group of 13 Jewish organizations that deals with Holocaust restitution worldwide, stressed that under a law adopted last year by the City of Warsaw, all unclaimed property is to be permanently transferred to the city.
In a meeting with city officials last month, Taylor said he asked that the city assist claimants as much as possible and asked that the six-month deadline be extended. He said he succeeded in convincing the city to post information about the 48 properties in English.
“It is critical that the Polish authorities take every possible step to identify and notify potential claimants,” he said. “We also call on Poland to extend the very short deadline. It is unfair for claimants — particularly those who now live outside of Poland — to lose this last opportunity to reconnect with their past because of the administrative complexity of this law.”
“The problems with this legislation highlight the urgent need for comprehensive national property restitution legislation in Poland,” Taylor added. “Poland remains the only country in Europe that does not have a national law to address private property restitution from the Holocaust era. We urge the government of Poland to address this issue promptly so that Holocaust survivors and their heirs, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, can receive a small measure of justice.”
The City of Warsaw’s announcements for each of these 48 properties can be found on its website.
Holocaust survivors and their families seeking additional information may visit the WJRO’s website for information and resources. There are also detailed instructions on how to file a claim. Successful claimants may obtain either the building now on their property or compensation.
The WJRO has created a searchable database that recognizes alternative spellings of names to assist families with determining whether a claim may exist from the past that has not yet been posted by the City of Warsaw. Only properties for which a claim was made right after World War II are eligible to be claimed. The city said it plans to post other eligible properties over the coming months. The new law does not address property outside of Warsaw.
Late December, Warsaw released the addresses of 2,613 properties with the understanding that each property had to be published again in a Polish newspaper or on the city’s website before the six-month clock begins ticking. To help those seeking to claim their family’s property, the WJRO employed researchers to check mortgage information and the 1930 and 1939-40 homeowners’ directory to match owners to the street addresses. But Taylor stressed that just having a person’s name appear on its database does not guarantee the claim is valid.
“Warsaw had the strongest Jewish community in Poland before the war and it has profound symbolic significance aside from the value of property for individual claimants,” he said. “There is no good solution to this issue. … It is not clear whether all of the properties on the list released in December are eligible to be claimed — it is likely but not certain.”
Asked if any claims have been made based upon the list released in December, Taylor said he had “heard of people who came forward, but it is only anecdotal.”