Israel and Poland in diplomatic row over Holocaust property bill

Two countries summon each other’s envoys over Polish legislation that might block World War II restitution claims.

A new museum in Warsaw displays how rich the Jewish culture was in Poland before the Nazi holocaust.
A museum in Warsaw displays the richness of Jewish culture in Poland before the Holocaust [File: Reuters]

Israel has summoned Poland’s ambassador to express its “deep disappointment” over a Polish bill that critics say will make it harder for Jews to recover property they lost in World War II, a move that triggered a reciprocal reaction from Warsaw.

Poland’s lower house of parliament on Thursday passed a draft bill introducing a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property, drawing a furious response from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who labelled it a “disgrace”.

A statement from the Israeli foreign ministry on Sunday said the legislation could affect up to 90 percent of property restitution requests from Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

“This is not a historical debate about responsibility for the Holocaust but a moral debt of Poland to those who were its citizens and whose property was looted during the Holocaust and under the communist regime,” the statement said.

The Polish foreign ministry, in turn, summoned Israel’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said on Sunday.

Jablonski said Warsaw would like to set the record straight about the legislation.

Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, the Israeli charge d’affaires, “has been summoned … and we will explain to her in a decisive and factual way what it’s about”, the Polish diplomat told state television TVP.

“We believe that unfortunately what we’re dealing with here is a situation that certain Israeli politicians are exploiting for internal political purposes,” he added.

The Israeli embassy in Warsaw tweeted on Thursday that “this immoral law will seriously impact relations between our countries.”

Poland’s foreign ministry said on Friday the introduction of time limits would “lead to the elimination of fraud and irregularities, which occurred on a large scale”.

“The new regulations do not in any way restrict the possibility of bringing civil suits to seek damages, irrespective of the plaintiff’s nationality or origin,” it added.

Compensation campaign

Almost all of Poland’s Jews, approximately three million people, were wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust. Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation from Poland since the fall of communism in 1989. Jewish properties seized by Nazis were kept by post-war communist rulers.

The legislation would implement a 2015 Constitutional Tribunal ruling that there should be a deadline after which faulty administrative decisions can no longer be challenged. The law sets this deadline at 30 years.

The legacy of World War II, and related Polish legislation, has previously strained ties between Poland and Israel.

Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbours during the war. But research published since 1989 showed that thousands also killed Jews or denounced those who hid them to the German occupiers.

In 2018 the government was forced to back down and remove parts of a Holocaust law that imposed jail terms on people who suggested the nation was complicit in Nazi crimes, which had angered the United States and Israel.

Source: News Agencies