Poland says it’s hoping Israel will come around on Holocaust legislation

After Israeli envoy to Warsaw is summoned, Polish deputy FM assails Jewish state’s ‘inappropriate’ criticism of law barring restitution claims

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński speaks to The Associated in Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński speaks to The Associated in Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AFP) — Poland’s deputy foreign minister said Monday he hoped that Israel would change its view on a bill that could cut off World War II restitution claims in an increasingly bitter diplomatic row.

The bill, which passed the lower house of parliament last week, is intended to provide greater legal certainty for current owners of prewar properties against historical claims dating back to the Nazi German occupation.

But critics say it could effectively block descendants of Jewish families from claiming properties left empty during the Holocaust and Israel has condemned the legislation as “immoral.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski spoke after Israel’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, was summoned to the Polish foreign ministry to be briefed on the new law.

Jablonski said in a televised briefing after Monday’s meeting that Israeli criticism was “inappropriate” and “we hope that the approach of the Israeli side will change.”

‘Not aimed against anybody’

Jewish claims on property were frozen during the Communist era and, unlike other countries in the region, Poland has never had a comprehensive law on restitution claims since the fall of Communism in 1989.

Some families that lost property have since sought restitution or compensation but the process has been chaotic and long.

In some cases, there have been fraudulent claims for restitutions.

Far-right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Alik Keplicz/AFP)

The new law, which still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president before entering into force, sets a cut-off date for some legal challenges of up to 30 years.

This means that if a person bought a prewar property in 1989 and has a specific official confirmation from that time proving their right to own it, any previous historical owners would now be excluded from contesting that right.

Jablonski said critics in Israel “refer to the issue of the Holocaust, which this law does not address in any way. This demonstrates, I have the impression, a lack of knowledge of the facts.”

“This law is not aimed against anybody,” he said, adding that “the political debate in Israel is dominated by views that are either critical of Poland or are simply anti-Polish.”

‘Not interested in Polish money’

The Israeli embassy in Warsaw had earlier said “this immoral law will seriously impact relations between our countries.”

It “will in effect prevent the restitution of Jewish property or compensation requests from Holocaust survivors and their descendants as well as the Jewish community that called Poland home for centuries. It’s mind-boggling,” the embassy said.

The Foreign Ministry also summoned Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, on Sunday.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, poses for a picture in Jerusalem on October 11, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday responded to comments made by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki last week in which he said that Poland would not “pay” for German crimes — “not one zloty, not one euro, not one dollar.”

“Poland’s prime minister should check the facts again. On Polish soil millions of Jews were murdered and no law will erase their memory,” Lapid wrote.

“We are not interested in Polish money and the very hint is antisemitic. We are fighting for the memory of Holocaust victims, for our national pride, and we will not let any parliament pass laws that aim to deny the Holocaust.”

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