Polish plans

Polish plans to disband property restitution commissions ill-conveived and harmful, says WJC head

16 February 2012

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, has expressed his misgivings at plans by the Polish government to abrogate agreements concluded in the 1990s that created a mechanism to facilitate the return of communal property seized by Nazi, and later Communist, decrees. He stated that any move to unilaterally disband existing public property commissions that are currently in place to deal with the claims of Jewish and other non-Catholic religious communities was “ill-conceived and perhaps even unconstitutional.”

An agreement with the Polish government 15 years ago resulted in the creation of specially appointed commissions to adjudicate claims for communal properties. Those bodies consisted of both government and claimant representatives. The Jewish leader declared: “Warsaw seeks to close down the commissions before they have concluded their work, leaving thousands of properties unrestituted. Left to local courts, claims for the restitution of communal property would become entangled in burdensome and time-consuming legal proceedings. Pursuing such cases across the length and breadth of the country would be an unbearable burden on the minority religious communities and harm them.”

Lauder went on to say: “This plan is ill-conceived and its implementation would be most problematic — not just for the Polish Jewish community, but for all religious minorities, including the Protestant and Orthodox Churches, the properties of which were also unlawfully confiscated. The idea that in a country in which the rule of law is respected — in a nation that paved the way for the rebirth of democracy in Central Europe — solemn agreements can be unilaterally abandoned is troubling. Paradoxically, at a time when much of Polish society is confronting the most painful aspects of the nation’s wartime history with admirable courage and candour, there are those who want reverse the process of righting historic wrongs.”

Lauder urged the Polish government to reconsider its position on this matter and to maintain the current system of adjudicating communal property claims. Earlier this week, the head of the Polish Jewish community, Piotr Kadlcik, had also criticized the move by Poland’s government.

Of the 3.25 million Jews who lived in Poland prior to World War II, 85 percent perished in the Holocaust. Jewish monuments are an integral part of the cultural heritage of Poland.