Unlike almost every other country in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland has never established a comprehensive restitution regime for private property (though a concordat signed in 1997 regulates the restitution of communal Jewish property), meaning that prewar property owners and their heirs—whether Jews or non-Jews, Polish citizens or not—must apply through the court system, often a long and arduous process that in many cases bears no fruit.
In October, however, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party published a series of proposals that, if enacted, would effectively bring property restitution to an end. Under the proposals, restitution would cease, and compensation would be capped at 20 percent of the property’s prewar value, or 25 percent in Polish government bonds. Only Polish citizens would be eligible for compensation, and applications would be restricted to the spouses or direct descendants of prewar owners making applications from within the country. Anyone who has given up their Polish citizenship or served in a foreign military force would be excluded. Only the heirs of property-owners who were resident at the time of nationalization would be eligible to apply.
The proposals prompted a fiercely critical response from a number of foreign governments and organizations representing Jewish claimants, who argue that the conditions as outlined in the proposals would end the hopes of virtually all Holocaust survivors of making successful claims. In December, the U.S. Senate passed legislation calling for the State Department to monitor and report on whether countries are meeting their commitment to adopt national laws and policies to help Holocaust survivors identify and reclaim their properties.
Even though non-Jewish Poles often have similar difficulties in securing restitution or compensation, the realities both of the Holocaust and the subsequent departure from Poland of the majority of surviving Polish Jews mean that in practice, Jewish claimants very often find it much harder to make progress than their local non-Jewish counterparts.
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