Trump signs Holocaust property law that has angered Poland

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act requires State Department to report on steps some European countries are taking to compensate WWII victims and their heirs

US President Donald Trump during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 9, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)
US President Donald Trump during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 9, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — US President Donald Trump has signed an act that Jewish groups praise as helpful in their efforts to reclaim lost property in Poland, but which the Polish government says is discriminatory.

The White House said on Wednesday that Trump signed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today — or JUST — Act. It requires the State Department to report to Congress on what steps dozens of countries in Europe have taken to compensate Holocaust survivors or their heirs for assets seized under Nazi German and Communist rule.

The law does not give the US any powers to act against any country and does not single out Poland. But Poland is the only country in Europe that has not passed legislation to compensate former owners for assets seized in the upheavals of 20th-century European history, and Warsaw sees itself as the key target of the law.

The Nazis’ seizure of Jewish-owned property in Poland during World War II, and the murder of most of Poland’s Jewish population, was followed after the war by the Communist state’s seizure of large amounts of property that was nationalized.

Most of the original owners of that property were not Jewish.

Since the fall of communism, some claimants have regained lost property on a case-by-case basis through courts, but so far Poland has not passed comprehensive legislation regulating the process, creating a situation that has been riddled by fraud and led to a sense of injustice.

Head of the paintings department at the Louvre museum, Sebastien Allard, poses next to paintings looted by Nazis during World War II, at the Louvre museum, in Paris, January 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz says he believes that the US pressure through the JUST Act unfairly sets Jewish claimants above non-Jewish ones, creating tensions within Polish society.

He argued that Polish law treats all Polish citizens equally, whether they are from the Polish majority or from ethnic minorities that made up significant segments of prewar society — including Jews and Ukrainians.

“This position of the (US) Congress is not good because it wants some privileges for the Jews, for the Jewish community, but not for the Poles. I think that the Poles who live in the US may feel hurt by that,” Czaputowicz said in an interview with The Associated Press last week.

He recalled that there were non-Jewish Poles who fought against Nazi Germany and then settled in the United States, leaving behind property that was seized by the Communist regime.

“Their property here remains without any settlement, and nobody speaks on their behalf, only on the behalf of the Jews. That is not good because that divides our society,” Czaputowicz added.

Polish organizations have also lobbied Congress members in past months asking them to oppose the act, efforts that included a mass letter-writing campaign.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said Thursday that it was grateful to Congress for passing the act unanimously, and to Trump for signing it. “This is a powerful statement of America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in their quest for justice,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations.

Most Popular
read more: