A new law in Poland slammed the door shut Saturday on heirs trying to reclaim their family property stolen during World War II and the Holocaust. Despite strong opposition from the US and Israel, Poland continued forward with the move, which effectively ended any hopes of restitution for the homes, land, jewelry, art, and other valuables confiscated from Jewish Poles by the Nazis.
After approving the law, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda defiantly declared, “I unequivocally reject this rhetoric and say it with all my strength. Linking this act with the Holocaust raises my firm objections.” He hoped it would end decades of “chaos” caused by “reprivatization mafias.”
Reprivatization refers to the process of restoring to its former owners, properties seized by a government or regime like the Nazis. Referring to them as “mafia” is one of the most disgusting forms of antisemitism and disrespect for holocaust survivors that I have seen in recent years, and it’s not coming from some lunatic white supremacist, but the president of Poland, where three million Jews were murdered.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “This is a shameful decision and disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust. (It) is a serious step that Israel will not be able to accept lightly.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Poland must find a way to “provide justice” for victims of the Holocaust that took place on Polish soil.
Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law “immoral” and “antisemitic.” Lapid said the new law “damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims. I will continue to oppose any attempt to rewrite history and to promote concessions that come at the expense of the Holocaust, of the Jewish people, or the rights of Holocaust victims.”
The rift escalated into a diplomatic row, as both countries called their envoys back home, with Israel advising the Polish ambassador to Israel to remain on vacation and not come back to Israel. Also, Poland is “reexamining” whether to continue to allow an annual Holocaust memorial trip for Israeli high schools, claiming the “anti-Poland” trips teach Jewish youth to hate Poland.
Germany has dealt with its antisemitic past and is prospering. The way forward is not to deny the past, but to deal with it and reject it. It is ironic that Poland doesn’t want people to hate Poland, but their actions against survivors are actually causing people to hate Poland.
About 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population before WWII—3 million Jews, including Lapid’s grandfather—were killed in the Holocaust. The new law puts a 30-year time limit on challenging property confiscations—for Jews and non-Jews. It also affects Poles who had property confiscated by the Communists in the era after the war.
While most members of the European Union have set up a restitution fund to compensate Jews who lost property in WW II, Poland has refused to, because as Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, Poland “won’t pay for Germany’s crimes.”