Jewish woman wins case against Polish church over land stolen after Holocaust

Poland’s Supreme Court rules in favor of Australian Ann Drillich, who claimed neighbor who saved her mother from Nazis later betrayed family and gave away their property

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

Poland’s Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of an Australian Jewish woman locked in battle with the Polish church over her family’s ancestral plot of land near Krakow, which she said was stolen by neighbors and handed over to the parish illegally after the Holocaust.

The court’s Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Rights on Monday upheld a six-year-old ruling in favor of Ann Drillich, who has been battling Polish religious authorities for years.

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 Poetschke 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.

The church claimed Drillich’s claims and documents were fraudulent, enlisting the help of the government, with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro using special powers to reopen the case.

Ziobro 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.

The Monday decision, however, sustained a previous ruling transferring ownership of the land to Drillich, closing the case again and preventing future claims by the church.

Drillich told the Guardian last year that her legal claim to her family home had led her to be subjected to repeated anti-Semitic abuse by Poles on social media and to defamatory reports in local media. She nonetheless told the newspaper she was not sorry for devoting so much of her life in recent years to the legal fight.

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