According to a report in today’s Ha’aretz, the Polish government has decided to completely alter the process of returning communal Jewish properties to their rightful owners, removing deliberation of the matter from committees comprised of both government and community representatives, and placing it in the hands of the courts. The government is trying hard to reach mutual agreement with claimant organizations, but strong objections from the Jewish community, as well as from four non-Catholic churches who would also be affected by the proposed change, will likely torpedo this move. At this point it is almost certain that the parliament will come up with legislation on the issue as early as March.
Last year an association of Israelis of Polish descent slammed Warsaw’s decision to suspend plans to offer compensation for individual property seized during the Nazi and communist eras. At the time, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk suspended work on a law that would have given some compensation to former owners of lost property. Tusk cited the economic crisis as the reason for the sudden change.
Some see the reason for the suspension of cooperation between the Warsaw government and Jewish organizations in the growing tension over Poland’s refusal to even open the discussion of returning the billions of dollars in property that was stolen from Polish Jews during and after the war. Others suggest that the main purpose of the committees had been to compensate the Polish Catholic Church for its losses, and once that has been taken care of, they see no need to right wrongs done to others.
President of the Jewish Communities in Poland Piotr Kadlcik who was invited to consult with the Minister of Administration and Computing – the body dealing with the return of confiscated Jewish property – stated unequivocally that the proposed arrangement is not acceptable to the Jewish organizations in Poland.
Public property committees have been at work in Poland since 1997, and have so far returned close to two thousand properties confiscated by the Nazis and later by the Communists. The ownership of some three thousand properties are still being disputed.