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Blinken laments Polish president’s authorization of Holocaust restitution law

US reiterates concerns over legislation that will severely restrict compensation for wrongfully confiscated property, urges Warsaw to develop legal procedure for resolving disputes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as he gives a joint press conference with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, following a meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, at the Fiera di Roma, in Rome, as part of Blinken's three-nation tour of Europe, on June 28, 2021. (ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as he gives a joint press conference with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, following a meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, at the Fiera di Roma, in Rome, as part of Blinken's three-nation tour of Europe, on June 28, 2021. (ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

NEW YORK — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed his dismay over the recent authorization of legislation in Poland that will severely restrict claims on properties seized by the state after World War II.

A statement from the top US diplomat said the Biden administration “reiterate[d] [its] concerns” and “deeply regret[s]” the law signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.

“We urge the Polish government to consult with representatives of affected parties and to develop a clear, efficient, and effective legal procedure to resolve confiscated property claims and provide some measure of justice for victims,” Blinken said. “In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property was unjustly taken, including that of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.”

Blinken also urged the amending of recently advanced legislation that would force Discovery Inc., the US owner of Poland’s largest private television network, to sell its Polish holdings and that is widely viewed as an attack on media independence in the country.

The draft legislation would prevent non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. In practice, it only affects TVN, which includes TVN24, an all-news station that is critical of the nationalist right-wing government and has exposed wrongdoing by Polish authorities.

“If passed in the current form, [the legislation] could severely affect media freedom and the foreign investment climate,” Blinken said.

Holocaust survivor Edward Mossberg with Polish president Andrzej Duda, at a ceremony in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90/ File)

Poland earlier Monday recalled its ambassador to Israel — two days after Jerusalem did the same with its own envoy — over the Holocaust restitution law, which Israel has slammed as “antisemitic.”

Warsaw says the law will bolster legal certainty in the property market, but opponents say that it is unjust to people with legitimate claims, including Holocaust survivors and their families.

The Polish law signed by Duda on Saturday sets a 30-year time limit on challenges to property confiscations, which would mean that pending proceedings involving Communist-era property confiscations would be discontinued and dismissed. It affects Polish, Jewish, and other property claims that are subject to contested previous determinations.

Some three million Polish Jews, 90 percent of the country’s Jewish community, were killed during World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland.

After the war, Communist authorities nationalized vast numbers of properties that had been left empty because their owners had been killed or fled.

While the law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, campaigners say Jewish owners will be disproportionately affected because they were often late in lodging claims after the war.

Poland said the ambassador recall was in response to the “recent unjustified actions of the State of Israel, including the unfounded decision to lower the level of diplomatic relations” and “unacceptable statements” by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, among others.

Israel itself had already told Poland on Saturday that its envoy, Marek Magierowski, who is in his home country on vacation, should not come back to the Jewish state.

File: The lower hose of Poland’s parliament, or Sejm, filled with new lawmakers, and foreign diplomats as guests, during the gala inauguration of a new four-year term of the national parliamentin Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

“The decision on the permanent level of the Polish diplomatic representation in Israel will be made in the following days,” the Polish statement said, adding that Warsaw would also not send the deputy ambassador. “Another employee” would temporarily manage the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Lapid on Saturday recalled Israel’s envoy to Poland over the new law, which he called “immoral, antisemitic.”

Also on Monday, Poland said it was examining the option of suspending annual Israeli youth trips to Holocaust memorial sites in the country.

Each year, thousands of Israeli high school students travel to Poland to commemorate and study the Holocaust, visiting Nazi sites associated with the genocide of European Jewry such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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