Polish official says country should seek German reparations for WWII

Polish official says country should seek German reparations for WWII

Ruling party lawmaker asserts no records show Poland ever renouncing its right to do so, even as Warsaw refuses to discuss Jewish restitution

Polish MP Arkadiusz Mularczyk, who said that a 1953 government agreement with Berlin about war reparations was not legally binding. (YouTube screenshot)
Polish MP Arkadiusz Mularczyk, who said that a 1953 government agreement with Berlin about war reparations was not legally binding. (YouTube screenshot)

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish official said his country is entitled to seek World War II reparations from Germany, arguing Tuesday that no documents or records show Poland ever renounced its right to do so.

Berlin has repeatedly said there is no legal basis for the claims because the matter was settled in a 1953 agreement.

But prominent ruling party lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk told The Associated Press that a copy of a 1953 note from a government session, signed only by Poland’s communist leader of the time, Boleslaw Bierut, is not legally binding.

Poland’s current authorities have argued the 1953 decision is invalid because it was dictated by Moscow when Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union.

Mularczyk believes that raising reparations with Berlin would improve bilateral ties. He said Poland has not been adequately compensated for the human and material losses it suffered under Nazi German occupation from 1939-45.

Mularczyk heads a team of experts counting the losses and their long-term effects on Poland, and intends to present it to Germany and other countries on September 1, the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland.

Poland’s ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice party said last year that the nation deserves compensation for its losses and set up a team of lawmakers under Mularczyk’s leadership to estimate how much is due.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

He said the estimate of losses will be higher than the currently cited $850 million, which derives from a 1947 count. It will include losses to all who were Polish citizens in 1939, including Jews and other minorities.

Germany has paid some compensation to individual Poles who were forced laborers or victims of German pseudo-medical experiments during the Nazis’ wartime occupation.

Meanwhile, Poland has refused to consider restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust.

Poland’s Law and Justice party as well as the centrist and liberal opposition have downplayed a law signed by US President Donald Trump in May 2018, which requires the US State Department to report to Congress on the progress of countries, including Poland, on the restitution of Jewish assets seized during World War II and its aftermath.

Jewish organizations, particularly the World Jewish Restitution Organization, have been seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors and their families, and consider it a matter of justice for a population that was subjected to genocide.

Poland is the only European Union country that hasn’t passed laws regulating the compensation of looted or national property, and the head of the WJRO, Gideon Taylor, has noted that such property “continues to benefit the Polish economy.”

Pre-war Poland was a Jewish heartland, with a centuries-old community numbering some 3.2 million, or around 10 percent of the country’s population at the time. Most Polish Jews were murdered in massacres or concentration camps.

On Saturday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was quoted as saying that holding Poland liable for the restitution of Jewish property seized by the Nazis during World War II would hand a “posthumous victory” to Hitler.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder rebuked Morawiecki Monday, saying the country’s institutions had for decades “profiteered” off assets stolen from Holocaust victims.

Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Ron Lauder speaks during the 6th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism conference at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 19, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Lauder called the comments “reprehensible” and “alarming in the extreme” and called on Morawiecki to explain or retract them.

Anti-Semitic concerns regarding Poland have recently resurfaced.

Last year, 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, which saw it as an attempt to ban testimonials on Polish crimes against Jews. In response, Warsaw amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

In February, Israel’s Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz drew Poland’s ire by saying “Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

Earlier this month, Poland scrapped a visit by Israeli officials over their intention to raise the restitution issue.

Also this month thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the American embassy in Warsaw, protesting that the US was putting pressure on Poland to compensate Jews.

The protest took place amid a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic hate speech in public life in the country and appeared to be one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times.

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