Lapid warns Poland ties ‘seriously’ harmed as Holocaust restitution law advances

Foreign minister again slams Warsaw over law, under which he says property restitution rights are being ‘stolen from the Holocaust victims’

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with 26 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 12, 2021. (European Union)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with 26 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 12, 2021. (European Union)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned Poland on Friday that their actions were seriously harming ties with Israel after a bill on Holocaust restitution advanced in the Polish Senate.

The Senate okayed a bill Friday that will place a 10-to-30-year cutoff date on contesting past administrative decisions on restitution. Critics of the law argue that it will effectively cut off the ability of Jews to reclaim property that was seized before and during the Holocaust.

“The passage of the polish property law now in Warsaw will seriously harm our relations with Poland. Poland knows very well what is the correct and proper thing to do,” Lapid said in his latest broadside in the escalating rift between the two countries.

“We are watching with great concern the progress of the legislation in Poland regarding the rights to property restitution that are being stolen from the Holocaust victims,” Lapid said.

The Senate approval came weeks after Poland’s parliament passed the bill, sparking the spat between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

“Each stage the legislation progresses is a serious development in our eyes,” said Lapid. “We will not be deterred from our determined defense of the honor of the Holocaust victims and preserving their memory and their rights.”

The dispute over the law has seen both countries summoning their respective envoys to express anger over the moves and an angry back-and-forth between politicians.

Lapid has been particularly harsh in his condemnation, calling the law  “immoral and a disgrace.”

In June, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hit back at Lapid and vowed to push ahead with the bill.

“I can only say that as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will not pay for German crimes: Neither zloty, nor euro, nor dollar,” Morawiecki said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, from left, visit the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland on December 6, 2019. (Photo/Markus Schreiber via AP)

Lapid at the time called Morawiecki’s insinuation that victims and their families were after money “antisemitic.”

“We are fighting for the memory of the Holocaust victims, for the pride of our people, and we won’t allow any parliament to pass laws whose goal is to deny the Holocaust,” he said.

Polish officials have accused Lapid of exaggerating the issue for internal political reasons.

Holocaust restitution in Poland is unpopular among many citizens, and Polish President Andrzej Duda campaigned against it ahead of his reelection last year. Many Polish citizens believe that claims should only be addressed to Nazi Germany and that it is unfair for Poland to pay out any damages from the Holocaust era.

Illustrative: Thousands of Polish nationalists march to the US Embassy, in Warsaw, Poland on May 11, 2019 to protest US pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

“There won’t be any damages paid for heirless property,” Duda said last year. “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.”

Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.

Issues of Holocaust restitution and revisionism have repeatedly plagued Israeli-Polish ties. In 2018, Warsaw passed a law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German war crimes. The move sparked an outcry from Israel, but the standoff largely ended when Poland agreed to amend the law to remove any criminal penalties.

In January 2020, Duda refused to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem after he was not invited to speak at the event. A week later, during a meeting in Krakow, Israeli President Rivlin asserted that “many Poles stood by and even assisted in the murder of Jews” during the Holocaust, something Poland has worked to deny, despite historical evidence.

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