‘Poland will not pay’: Polish PM hits back at Lapid criticism of restitution law

Mateusz Morawiecki digs in heels after Israeli FM attacks law that would set a 30-year deadline for Jews to recover seized property, barring all Holocaust claims

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, on December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, on December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hit back Friday at Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s claim that new Polish legislation, which would bar Holocaust restitution claims in Poland, was “immoral.”

Asked about the comments at a press conference, Morawiecki, without directly addressing the claims, said, “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.”

The legislation — which passed late Thursday evening with 309 votes in favor, zero votes opposed and 120 abstentions, according to Polish state news agency PAP — sets a 30-year deadline for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German forces, essentially preventing any World War II-era compensation claims or appeals of past decisions. The legislation must now reportedly be approved by the Polish Senate, after being okayed by the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament.

Lapid on Thursday said that the bill was “a disgrace that will not erase the horrors or the memory of the Holocaust.”

“It is a horrific injustice and disgrace that harms the rights of Holocaust survivors, their heirs, and members of the Jewish communities that existed in Poland for hundreds of years,” said Lapid in a statement. “This is an incomprehensible action. This immoral law will seriously harm relations between the countries.”

Lapid said it was “extremely worrisome and grave” that Poland was ignoring the 2009 non-binding Terezin Declaration, which laid out guidelines for Holocaust-era property restitution.

“The State of Israel will stand as a wall of protection in defense of the memory of the Holocaust, as well as to defend the honor of Holocaust survivors and their property,” said the foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/Pool/AFP)

Poland’s Foreign Ministry countered that Lapid’s comments on the bill were misguided.

“Those comments are indicative of ignorance of the facts and the Polish law,” the ministry said in a statement. “Poland is by no means responsible for the Holocaust, an atrocity committed by the German occupant also on Polish citizens of Jewish origin.”

In this February 5, 2018 photo, far-right groups hold a demonstration in front of the presidential palace to call on President Andrzej Duda to sign a bill that would limit some forms of Holocaust speech in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The ministry said that the new legislation was passed because it was unconstitutional and “a gross violation of law” to have no time limit on overturning past administrative decisions.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, also denounced Polish lawmakers for advancing the bill.

“Polish lawmakers should bow their heads and be ashamed of the step they took this evening,” Cohen tweeted.

According to Ynet, President Reuven Rivlin wrote a letter last week to Polish President Andrzej Duda expressing his opposition to the legislation.

The law would “very much obscure our joint efforts in strengthening the relations between our countries and in securing the partnership between our nations,” Rivlin reportedly wrote. “Since I very much appreciate the relationship between us, I have decided to appeal to you that your esteemed government consider the consequences of such legislation.”

Bix Aliu, the chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Warsaw, also reportedly objected to the legislation in a letter to the speaker of the Polish parliament.

“Our understanding is that this draft bill would effectively make restitution or compensation for Holocaust or Communist era property unobtainable for a large percentage of claims,” Bix Aliu wrote, according to Reuters.

On Feb. 6, 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda announces his decision to sign legislation penalizing certain statements about the Holocaust, in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Holocaust restitution in Poland is unpopular among many citizens, and 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.

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.

Leading Israeli historians have argued that Poland consistently attempts to understate anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Poles before, during and after World War II.

JTA contributed to this report.

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