The continuing dispute between the governments of Israel and Poland over Holocaust restitution reached high dudgeon this week with each recalling their respective diplomatic personnel from the other amidst a series of dueling invectives. At issue is Poland’s recently enacted law that sets a 30-year time limitation on when property claims may be brought or perfected. It thus effectively prevents former Polish property owners, including Holocaust survivors and their descendants, from regaining property seized by the Nazis and later expropriated by the country’s post-War communist regime, which came to an end in 1989.
It is not for nothing that Poland remains the only European Union country that has not enacted a comprehensive restitution law, urging claimants to pursue their remedies in courts. And that now even this limited, laborious and expensive avenue will no longer be available.
The Poles have long chafed under the credible charges that many of them were complicit in the Nazi war against Polish Jewry, sometimes even surpassing them in savagery. So it is easy to see why the Polish government of Poland would want no part in anything that would call attention to that sordid period in the Polish past. Further, much of the property at issue is now held by the Polish government by virtue of their having either been seized from the Nazis by the Communist government, or directly nationalized by it. And finally, any restitution would be funded by the public treasury, something that would also be anathema to Polish officials now that they have successfully resisted for so long.
The Poles also argue that the property claims affected by the new law are not limited to Jewish victims of the Holocaust but also cut off any possible redress for non-Jewish claimants as well. Without minimizing legitimate claims of those non-Jews, Poland’s refusal to acknowledge that Jewish claims come from a fundamentally different place is perhaps the most damning reminder of its ignoble record on the Holocaust.