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Poland criticized by U.S. over Holocaust restitution claims

Warsaw, Poland – In a report issued Wednesday, the U.S. State Department called out Poland, as well as a number of other European countries, for failing to compensate Holocaust victims and their families for property lost during World War II, as the controversial topic resurfaces.

“Much time has passed, and the need for action is urgent,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a forward to the report which comes as the Trump administration tries to avoid picking fights with conservative European governments it is seeking support from.

The return of, or compensation for, seized property

“As we mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, the legacy of the Nazis’ mass looting remains in too many places and largely unaddressed,” he said. “Given the advanced age of Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in poverty, the findings of this report serve as a reminder that countries must act with a greater sense of urgency to provide restitution or compensation for the property wrongfully seized from victims of the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi persecution.”

The 200-page report that looks at the records of countries in meeting commitments they made to restitution in 2009 singles out Bosnia, Belarus, Ukraine and particularly Poland for not having acted on their restitution commitments.

It notes that Poland, which had the largest Jewish community in Europe before the outbreak of World War II, has not yet enacted comprehensive legislation on national property restitution or compensation covering Holocaust confiscations, with only about half of the 5,500 claims for Jewish property being adjudicated and half of those rejected.

The return of, or compensation for, property seized during the German occupation of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as during postwar communist rule, is a particular point of concern, especially regarding so-called “heirless property” for which no surviving heirs are identifiable, the report said.

“There won’t be any damages paid for heir-less property,” Duda announced during an election campaign rally earlier this month.

The controversial topic resurfaces

For years, Jewish organizations have called for a restitution law to return property of those who died in the Holocaust and left no heirs.

The controversial topic took centre stage during the country’s recent election campaign with the Polish conservative president Andrzej Duda repeatedly depicting his liberal opponent Rafał Trzaskowski as someone who would sell out Polish interests and hand over huge sums to “international lobby.”

“There won’t be any damages paid for heir-less property,” Duda announced during an election campaign rally earlier this month, saying that descendants can seek compensation in courts, while rejecting suggestions that Poland should pay any damages for the historic wrongs of a war that began with Nazi Germany’s invasion of its territory.

“I will never sign a law that will privilege any ethnic group vis-à-vis others. Damages should be paid by the one that started the war,” he added.

Poland is the only ex-communist nation without comprehensive legislation addressing claims for property nationalized last century.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization has repeatedly called on the country to address property claims by U.S.-citizen Holocaust survivors and their families, and the U.S. Congress last year obliged the State Department to monitor progress in Polish restitution rules.