World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder on Monday rebuked the Polish prime minister for his rejection of Jewish restitution, saying the country’s institutions had for decades “profiteered” off assets stolen from Holocaust victims.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was quoted as having said Saturday 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.
Poland, a victim of the Nazis, would be turned into a perpetrator, Morawiecki said, becoming the latest ruling party member to comment on a US law on the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust.
Poland, which was invaded by Nazi Germany and lost six million citizens during World War II, insists the matter is closed and says the legislation will have no impact at home.
In a statement, Lauder called the comments “reprehensible” and called on Morawiecki to explain or retract them.
“Successive Polish governments have steadfastly refused to recognize the material losses of Polish Jewry and have essentially treated their homes and other property as the spoils of war,” Lauder said. “And individual Poles and Polish institutions have profiteered from these assets for more than seven decades.
“This unwillingness to acknowledge that the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs are entitled to a modicum of material justice is unfortunate enough,” he said.
“But Prime Minister Morawiecki’s contention — assuming that it was uttered as reported — that providing restitution to Jews for their stolen property would be ‘Hitler’s posthumous victory’ is alarming in the extreme,” he added.
According to Polish state television, Morawiecki made the remarks at a convention of the ruling governing Law and Justice (PiS) party in the central city of Lodz last week.
“Whenever anyone says today that Poland must offer someone restitution, we say: we don’t consent, and we won’t,” Morawiecki said, quoted by the television station.
“If it were ever to get to that point, where the executioner and the victim are swapped, then it would go against all principles of international law,” he added.
“It would also be Hitler’s posthumous victory.”
The US Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act — known as the 447 law — requires the State Department to report to Congress on the progress of countries, including Poland, with regard to the restitution of Jewish assets seized during World War II and its aftermath.
Pre-war Poland was a Jewish heartland, with a centuries-old community numbering some 3.2 million, around 10 percent of the Polish population.
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.