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Polish president approves WWII restitution law, defying Israel and US

Andrzej Duda rails against ‘reprivitization mafias’ as he signs legislation that will effectively prevent heirs to property seized by Nazis during Holocaust from reclaiming it

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

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president approved a law on Saturday that will effectively prevent future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust, defying strong opposition from Israel and the United States.

The law sets a 30-year time limit on challenges to property confiscations, which would mean that pending proceedings involving Communist-era property confiscations would be discontinued and dismissed. It affects Polish, Jewish and other property claims that are subject to contested previous determinations.

President Andrzej Duda told Poland’s PAP news agency that hoped the law would end an “era of legal chaos” and “reprivitization mafias.”

The government says it will restore legal certainty to the property market and block false claims.

Duda also said he strongly objected to anyone suggesting that the law was directed specifically against Jews who survived the Holocaust, which was carried out by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland and elsewhere.

“I unequivocally reject this rhetoric and say it with all my strength,” Duda said. “Linking this act with the Holocaust raises my firm objection.”

When parliament passed the law this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had asked Duda not to sign it.

Lapid said it “damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims.”

“I will continue to oppose any attempt to rewrite history, and to promote concessions that come at the expense of the Holocaust, of the Jewish people or the rights of Holocaust victims,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Blinken said he was “deeply concerned” and urged Poland to approve a comprehensive law to cover confiscated property claims — something other countries in Central and Eastern European have done.

But Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said that Poland “won’t pay for Germany’s crimes.”

Some three million Polish Jews, 90 percent of the country’s Jewish community, were killed during World War II in Poland.

After the war, Communist authorities nationalized vast numbers of properties that had been left empty because their owners had been killed or fled.

While the law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, campaigners say Jewish owners will be disproportionately affected because they were often late in lodging claims after the war.

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

“Poland is, of course, not responsible for what Nazi Germany did during the Holocaust. However… Poland still benefits from this wrongfully acquired property,” the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) said in a statement.

“Property restitution is about more than money — for many of Holocaust survivors and their families, a home is the last remaining physical connection to the lives they once led,” the advocacy group said.

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