Jewish woman says Polish church stole her family’s land after Holocaust

Jewish woman says Polish church stole her family’s land after Holocaust

Polish government helping parish fight Australian Ann Drillich after years in courts; she claims neighbor who saved her mother from Nazis betrayed family, gave away their land

Illustrative: A view of Tarnow, Poland (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative: A view of Tarnow, Poland (YouTube screenshot)

An Australian Jewish woman is locked in battle with the Polish church over her family’s ancestral plot of land near Krakow, which she says was stolen by neighbors and handed over to the parish illegally after the Holocaust.

Ann Drillich has been battling Polish religious authorities in courts for years. According to a recent report in the Guardian, they have repeatedly ruled in her favor.

But now the church has enlisted the help of the government, with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro using special powers to overturn those rulings and reopen the case.

Drillich’s family had lived in Tarnow for centuries until the Nazi occupation forced them to leave to a ghetto, where they all died. However, Ann’s mother Blanka managed to hide with the neighboring Poetschke family for the duration of the war. Family scion Jerzy was later honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

After the war Blanka returned to her home but anti-Semitism in the community led her to emigrate to Australia, with Jerzy Poetschke left to handle her affairs.

But Drillich said the family found out decades later that Jerzy betrayed their trust. After Blanka’s death by suicide, he sold part of the land for a profit and donated the other to the church.

Since 2010 Ann Drillich has been waging a campaign to get her family plot back.

“It was like they had stolen not just our land, but my family’s history,” she said.

The church claims Drillich’s claims and documents are fraudulent. But courts have consistently ruled in her favor.

Ziobro, the justice minister, is a member of the nationalist Law and Justice party, controversial for its attitude towards the nation’s history during the Holocaust, and known for encouraging public outrage against Jewish restitution claims.

Drillich told the Guardian her legal claim to her family home has led her to be subjected to repeated anti-Semitic abuse by Poles on social media and to defamatory reports in local media.

Drillich said the battle was one of principle.

“If I won, I’d want an apology, I’d want compensation and genuine reconciliation. I would not be looking to demolish the church,” she said.

She told the newspaper she was not sorry for devoting so much of her life in recent years to the legal fight.

“The Holocaust destroyed my family. I know how much the property meant to my mother. How brave she was to reclaim it after the war,” she said. “How could I not?”

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