Sunday, December 5

Israel condemns Polish property law affecting Holocaust survivors

Israel has condemned Poland’s passage of a law restricting the rights of Holocaust survivors or their descendants to claim property seized by the country’s former communist regime.

On Saturday he announced that he was withdrawing his top diplomat from Poland in protest.

The move sparked a diplomatic crisis between the new government of Israel and the conservative nationalist government of Poland.

After years of close ties with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new government, which includes senior officials who are the children of Holocaust survivors, has taken a much more adversarial approach.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the law earlier, which addresses assignments made by the communist government that ruled Poland from the end of World War II until 1989.

The law itself says nothing about the Holocaust or World War II. Instead, it states that any administrative decision issued 30 or more years ago can no longer be challenged, meaning that homeowners whose homes or businesses were seized in the communist era can no longer get compensation.

It is expected to forever cut the hopes of some families, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to claim property seized during that time.

Both the US and Israeli governments had strongly urged Poland not to pass the law, and Israel had warned that it would damage ties.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Duda’s signing of the law “a shameful decision and a shameful disregard for the memory of the Holocaust” and said “Poland has chosen to continue to harm those who have lost everything.” .

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that he had instructed Israel’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw to return home immediately and that the new Israeli ambassador to Poland, who was scheduled to leave for Warsaw, would remain in Israel. .

Israel’s Foreign Ministry also said it was recommending that the Polish ambassador, who is back home from vacation, not return to Israel.

“Poland passed today, not for the first time, an immoral and anti-Semitic law,” said Lapid, whose late father was a Holocaust survivor.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he was the son of Holocaust survivors and said he was “deeply disturbed.”

“Property restitution is a small but significant part of the process of fulfilling the rights of those who have survived and recognizing those who have perished in one of the largest genocides in the world,” Gantz said.

Duda said on Saturday that it had taken a hard look at the matter and decided to sign the law to end legal uncertainty and fraud linked to properties whose ownership remains in doubt decades after its seizure.

The law does not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish plaintiffs, and Duda said he was strongly opposed to anyone suggesting that the law was specifically directed against Jews who survived the Holocaust.

“I unequivocally reject this rhetoric and speak it with all my might,” Duda said. “Tying this act to the Holocaust raises my strong objection.”

Property seized after Jews were forced to flee Poland

Before World War II, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe of almost 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust and their property confiscated by the Nazis.

Some of the few Polish Jews who survived faced violence and persecution at the hands of Poles after the war, prompting many to emigrate to countries such as the United States and Israel, which today is home to tens of thousands of survivors. of the Holocaust who grow old.

Postwar Communist authorities in Poland confiscated many of those properties, along with the properties of many non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities.

When communism fell in 1989, it opened up the possibility for the plaintiffs to try to recover family properties.

Some cases have been resolved in court, but Poland has never passed a comprehensive law regulating the restitution or compensation of seized property.

To complicate matters, some criminal groups in recent years have falsely claimed that they represent rightful owners, obtaining valuable properties through fraud and then evicting tenants from the properties.

“I am convinced that with my signature ends the era of legal chaos, the era of reprivatization mafias, the uncertainty of millions of Poles and the lack of respect for the basic rights of the citizens of our country. I believe in a state that protects its citizens against injustice, ”said Duda.

The legislation received wide support across the political spectrum in Poland.

The last major diplomatic crisis between Israel and Poland erupted in 2018 when Warsaw introduced a law that many in Israel saw as an attempt to suppress discussion about the crimes that Poles committed against Jews during the German occupation of World War II.

The law was eventually diluted and has not been enforced.

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