A local Polish Jewish organization and an international Jewish group will share jurisdiction over the control of perhaps billions of dollars of Jewish communal properties being returned by the Polish government, according to a tentative deal reached between the two parties.
The proposed agreement over some 6,000 properties seized by the Nazis and communists comes after three years of acrimonious negotiations between the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Union of Polish Jewish Congregations.
“We basically have what we think is a framework for an agreement to establish a foundation for restituted property,” U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat said last week. Eizenstat has served as the U.S. point man for negotiations involving Holocaust-era claims.
The Polish Jewish union would exercise control over communal properties in nine districts where there is “a critical mass of local Jews,” he explained, while the WJRO would manage the rest. The properties, being returned to Jewish hands under a Polish law approved in 1996, include historic and sacred sites such as synagogues, day schools, community centers and cemeteries.
A joint foundation comprised of WJRO and Polish Jewish council members would be established and chaired by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder to administer the sale of income-producing properties. Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has extensive business dealings in Eastern Europe and is behind projects to revive Jewish life there.
Still to be negotiated is which organization will pay to maintain cemeteries — a major sticking point in the talks. Polish Jewish leaders also have complained about interference and bullying by the WJRO.
The agreement must be approved by the membership of each Jewish organization.
Eizenstat credited State Department Holocaust issues expert Henry Clark for getting the two Jewish groups to cooperate during a series of negotiations two weeks ago.
“He has really helped make some significant progress,” Eizenstat said of Clark.
Eizenstat said the squabbling has wasted valuable time because Poland’s five-year deadline to seek restitution ends in two years, and the Jews still need to do research for proof of ownership.