A few years ago, Shoshana Greenberg stood outside a building in Lodz, Poland, once owned by her family, with an old photograph in her hands and tears running down her face.
Greenberg, now 74 years old and living in Tel Aviv, was on a quest to recover property lost during the Holocaust. His father was the head of a prominent and wealthy Jewish family in Lodz that owned industrial buildings, residences, and vacation properties.
When the Nazis arrived, the property was confiscated along with the family’s jewels. They were forced to enter the Lodz ghetto. Later, Greenberg’s father and his brothers were sent to Auschwitz, and only his father survived. After the war, Poland’s new communist government nationalized property that had been confiscated, while destitute Holocaust survivors rebuilt their lives from scratch elsewhere.
Since the fall of Communist Europe in 1989, most of the former Soviet bloc countries have taken steps to provide restitution and compensation to their prewar Jewish citizens. Poland is the only major country that has not implemented such a program, and now it is about to make the payoff even more difficult.
In the coming weeks, a new law is expected to pass its final stages in the Polish parliament that will set a 30-year time limit for legal challenges on confiscated property, eliminating thousands of claims.
The Polish government has said that the new regulations are aimed at preventing fraud and “wrongdoing”. He has also said that “he is not responsible for the Holocaust, an atrocity committed by the Germans [occupiers]”. But many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States, have harshly criticized the move.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “This is not a historic debate on responsibility for the Holocaust, but a moral debt of Poland to those who were its citizens and whose properties were looted during the Holocaust and under the communist regime.”
Last week, the The United States said the legislation “would cause irreparable harm both Jews and non-Jews by effectively extinguishing claims for restitution and compensation for property seized during the Holocaust that was subsequently nationalized during the communist period.
The UK Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Warsaw have expressed concern to the Polish government. Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, tweeted: “The restitution of confiscated Jewish property remains a pending issue. The many friends in Poland urge you to agree on a fair and reasonable plan. “
Gideon Taylor, president of operations for the World Organization for Jewish Restitution, told the Observer that the legislation was a “terrible mistake” that would “basically eliminate any claim.” He added: “The arguments of the Polish government that legal certainty is needed are correct and a very reasonable position. However, that comes with the need to address the underlying issues. “
Other countries of the former Soviet bloc had “squared” with the past. “But Poland is trying to ignore the past and hide what was a great injustice.” Some leading Polish figures had advocated “approaching the story in an open and transparent way, but unfortunately there are stronger voices that reject any attempt to see what happened. The hope is that wiser heads will prevail, but it’s very difficult, ”Taylor said.
Three years ago, Poland made it a crime to accuse the country of complicity in Nazi war crimes, with a penalty of up to three years in prison. After an international protest, particularly from Israel and the United States, the Warsaw government backed down, making it a civil offense rather than a criminal one.
Before World War II, there were more than 3 million Jews living in Poland, the largest community in Europe. About 90% died in the Holocaust, many in Nazi death camps. Now the Jewish population of Poland is about 10,000.
The Polish embassy in London said the legislation “does not discriminate against any person or any particular group, nor is it intended to antagonize any party, including Israel or the Jewish diaspora.”
He added: “Polish law allows all entitled persons, regardless of nationality or origin, to exercise their rights, including in civil proceedings, to obtain compensation for property lost due to post-war nationalization.
“Poland attaches great importance to the commemoration of the victims of the genocide committed by the German occupiers on its territory during the Second World War.”
Greenberg’s father asked him to one day reclaim the family property. Finally, in 2016, he had his day in a Polish court. “On the witness stand, I was stronger than steel. My father’s voice came out of my mouth, on behalf of my family and the 6 million Jews who died, ”he said.
After the court ruled that she was the legal heir, she went to her father’s grave. “I told him that I had won, that the dignity of the family had been restored.”
But within weeks, the Polish property registry office denied his request that the property be registered in his name, citing a ‘warning’ registered in the 1950s. “I was shocked. I was the heir but not the heir. owner “.
The new law is yet another blow to Greenberg and other descendants seeking restitution. “The property does not belong to the Polish government, it belongs to my family. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, ”he said. “I hope the world is not silent. I do not forget and I never forgive. Never.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism