Calls are growing louder for Poland to adopt a process to resolve private property restitution claims of families — mostly non-Jewish — whose property was confiscated by the Nazis and/or later nationalized by the Communists. (See story on page 1.)
For years, Poland has claimed it cannot afford to pay such restitution. But now it has the largest economy in Central Europe and the sixth largest in the European Union. And analysts hail it as a success story among the transition economies, noting that it is the largest among the ex-communist members of the European Union. Since 2004, its EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to its economy.
And yet it remains the only European Union member-state and the only major country in Central and Eastern Europe that doesn’t have a mechanism to provide restitution.
Earlier this year, its own ombudsman entreated lawmakers to address this problem, saying:
“The time is now [while] … we still have EU funding.”
Gideon Taylor, chair of operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, warns that Poland’s continued failure to deal with the issue could become a drag on its economy and trigger pressure from the business community.
“If it wants its strong economy to continue going forward, it needs to have certainty of title [to property],” he said. “People doing business in Poland want to know that the deals they do for land are conclusive, which is why it is in Poland’s interest to resolve this issue — aside from the moral arguments of doing the right thing. And the stronger its economy becomes, the more important the issue will be in Poland.”
Just last week, outgoing Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski refused to sign into law a bill that would have limited the ability of survivors and their heirs to reclaim their property in Warsaw.
And now pressure is coming from the United States. The comptrollers of New York City (Scott Stringer) and New York State (Thomas DiNapoli), together with California State Treasurer John Chiang, have sent a letter to Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz calling upon her to fulfill her country’s “obligation” to the survivors and heirs whose property was confiscated by the Nazis.
And a month ago, a bipartisan group of 42 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry urging his continued efforts to ensure the restitution of Jewish communal, private and heirless property seized by the Nazis throughout Europe — and mentioning Poland in particular.
We applaud these efforts and echo the words of former Polish President Komorowski who, in 2011, called his country’s refusal to institute a property restitution process a “disgrace for Poland.”