Poland’s Restitution Law Denies their Dark History – Conservative Article
Recently in Warsaw, Poland’s government has passed a law that places a 30 year limit on property restitution claims. As a result of this, Holocaust survivors and their descendants, along with those who had properties taken in the communist regime, will not be able to reclaim property that is rightfully theirs. This is a knock-on effect from the fall of the communist regime in 1989 where Poland failed to construct “a comprehensive law that would regulate restituting or compensating seized properties.” Due to Poland’s neglect of such a law, reclamation of their property has been exceptionally challenging for those who have had property seized, additionally increasing rates of eviction. The new law that has been passed does not help Poland to move on from this matter. Instead, it simply adds fuel to the fire.
What initially drew my attention to this matter was the fact that families of those murdered in the Holocaust are yet again not able to receive justice. It is morally and politically corrupt of the Polish government to maintain properties that are not theirs. This is especially the case for those that rightfully belong to the families of those murdered in the Holocaust.
The government has claimed that this law is “a response to fraud and irregularities that have emerged in the restitution process”. However, Michael Bazyler, an expert in international law, makes an excellent point against this claim. Bazyler states that “The way you stop wild re-privatization and corruption is to go against corruption. You don’t do it by taking the claims of legitimate heirs.” I completely agree with Bazyler. The Polish government is constructing a narrative whereby they are preventing corruption. Yet this is anything but that. All this does is perpetuate more corruption, where justice seems even more out of reach for so many.
Antony J. Blinken, U.S Secretary of State, suggests that Poland create “a comprehensive law for resolving confiscated property claims.” He states that “Until such a law is enacted, the pathway to compensation should not be closed for new claims or those pending decisions in administrative courts.” Blinken makes an excellent point. One of the core reasons that such chaos around restitution has ensued is the fact that Poland never established a comprehensive law in the first place. This kick-started the higher levels of fraud that the government claims to be tackling.
Surely this is the obvious solution?
It is shocking that the Polish government are able to benefit from the seized properties of Jews in the Holocaust to this day. As the World Jewish Restitution Organisation has said: “Poland is, of course, not responsible for what Nazi Germany did during the Holocaust. However, more than thirty years after the fall of communism, Poland still benefits from this wrongfully acquired property”. Now is the time for Poland to acknowledge that they have benefitted from stolen property. It is not theirs to keep.
I find it truly difficult to believe that this is simply a matter of property and complexities in regulating such a task. Poland’s history of denial of its role in the Holocaust suggests that this is a matter that is deeply rooted in antisemitism.
In 2018, Poland passed a law which “criminalizes speech suggesting Polish complicity in the Holocaust.” “Any suggestion that the country was responsible for the mass murder of Jews during World War II” was criminalised, causing outrage, especially in Israel. This attempt to rewrite history lends itself to the deeply rooted antisemitism that still exists in the Polish government. Israel Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, states that “I will continue to oppose any attempt to rewrite history… Poland knows what the right thing to do is – repeal the law”. Poland’s denial of this complicity during the Holocaust and their denial of rightfully owned property to descendants of the Holocaust can only achieve one thing: the denial of justice.
I must also note the severe impact that this has on non-Jews too. This does not just deny those who lost property in the Holocaust of compensation. It also has a serious effect on many non-Jews who had property taken from them in the communist regime.
Blinken adds that he is “deeply concerned” with this legislation. Claiming that the legislation is “severely restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist-era”.
I do not see how the Polish government can expect to move on from their history if they are going to continue denying it. Yes, restitution is a challenge. It is not simple. But it must be done if they are to move forward.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Point of Information
This will have a Global Impact – A Liberal Response
I stand with Rebecca in thoroughly denouncing the unjust Restitution Law which Poland seeks to pass. The antisemitic tendencies of the far-right Law and Justice (PiS) Party are creeping up once again. At best, this law shows a complete disregard for justice, human rights, and the costs of the Holocaust. The lack of further elaborations on other potential options during these 30 years is proof of this. But, with a government that refuses to confront the direct role Polish people played in the Shoah, it is no surprise that it has come to this. If Duda, Poland’s President, fails to veto the bill, there could be global ramifications. Given PiS’s poor history with the rights of anybody but the Catholic heterosexual Pole though, I have little hope in him.
Should the law pass, the EU and Visegrad countries must re-evaluate their relationship with Poland. The EU prides itself on its reputation as a federation of liberal, democratic states. Since 2015 though, Poland has shattered this perception, with the Restitution law being the nail in the coffin. Alongside the antisemitic Fidesz government of Hungary, the EU has done little to hold back member states hostile to its guiding ethos. This incongruence should also apply to the Central European Visegrad Group. Two of its states currently exist as liberal democracies (Czechia and Slovakia) and two do not (Hungary and Poland). This alliance is becoming increasingly tenuous whilst the elephant in the room is ignored.
Then there remains Israel and the USA. Both countries still hold strong ties of allegiance to Poland, even despite the election of the anti-democratic, antisemitic PiS. The restitution law has been justifiably condemned by both. However, both countries should go beyond symbolic responses and provide firm consequences if this law is passed. Yet, with the growing threat of Russia and the need for a NATO ally on its border, this is unlikely to happen.
Israel and the USA should also take this as a moment to reflect on their own policies. As the Restitution Law controversy has shown, the victims of stolen property deserve to be compensated. Yet, Israel has failed to provide any restitution for the Palestinians it forcibly expropriated during the Nakba. Indeed, exiled Palestinians are still banned from claiming the property that is rightfully theirs, and from even returning. The USA has also still failed to properly compensate its Native American citizens as well, whose land they robbed and people they massacred over two centuries, leaving them amongst the poorest residents of what should be their homeland. Let us be clear. All victims of expropriation deserve restitution.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Morality comes above ease and denial – A Labour Response
Property restitution is an issue that is often overlooked as having a connection to more serious issues. But Rebecca does a great job at highlighting the reality and the likelihood of detrimental consequences of Poland’s restitution amendment for the Jewish community.
Absolutely no one should be benefitting from the atrocities of the holocaust. Regardless of whether the intention is to simply avoid uncertainty surrounding property ownership, it is immoral. Ease should not be put above morality and history that cannot be forgotten or denied.
Rebecca is right though to suggest that there may be a different intention behind this move. That is the denial of Polish involvement in the holocaust altogether. This wouldn’t be the first move of its kind. In 2017, the Law and Justice Party modified the school curriculum to emphasise Polish heroism and reduced the number of times Polish schoolchildren would learn about the holocaust. And a year later they criminalised speech, as Rebecca mentioned.
It is also a sign of the extension of Poland’s right-wing influence. Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, recently released a statement claiming Poland has become “anti-democratic [and] non-liberal”. Yet this isn’t the only move contributing to this. Poland’s lack of acceptance for liberal issues like abortion and homosexual rights come under a similar bracket.
Ultimately, any attempt to deny or benefit from the holocaust will not go unnoticed. And anyone who has had property seized and now has no right to its return (in the eyes of Polish law) probably won’t just sit back and accept this. And rightly so.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo