Poland’s Troubling Legislation testing Ties with Longstanding Allies over War Reparations for Holocaust Survivors

By John Clise

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken recently noted his extreme concern over the lingering effects of recent Polish legislation restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families in obtaining reparations for wrongfully confiscated property during that country’s communist era.

This week, the Polish parliament approved on Wednesday a law limiting the ability of Holocaust survivors and descendants of Holocaust victims to reclaim their property, by approving the Polish Holocaust Restitution Law sets a 30-year deadline for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi Germany in Poland. The law essentially prevents any Holocaust-era compensation claims or appeals of past decisions.

The U.S. and Israel have both voiced concerns, and upset over the new law.

“We are deeply concerned that Poland’s parliament passed legislation today severely restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era,”   Blinken said. “We urge that President Duda not sign the bill into law or that, in line with the authority granted to him as President, he refer the bill to Poland’s constitutional tribunal.  A comprehensive law for resolving confiscated property claims is needed to provide some measure of justice for victims.  Such a law would benefit many Polish citizens, as well as people who were forced to leave Poland during and after World War II and who subsequently became naturalized citizens of other countries.  Until such a law is enacted, the pathway to compensation should not be closed for new claims or those pending decisions in administrative courts.”

“The United States is also deeply troubled by draft legislation passed today by the lower house of the Polish parliament that targets the most watched independent news station, which is also one of the largest U.S. investments in the country,” Blinken added.  “Poland has worked for decades to foster a vibrant and free media.  This draft legislation would significantly weaken the media environment the Polish people have worked so long to build.  A free and independent media makes our democracies stronger, the Transatlantic Alliance more resilient, and is fundamental to the bilateral relationship.  Large U.S. commercial investments in Poland tie our prosperity together and enhance our collective security.  This draft legislation threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland’s strong investment climate.”

Blinken stressed that Poland is an important NATO Ally that understands the Transatlantic Alliance is based on mutual commitments to shared democratic values and prosperity.

“These pieces of legislation run counter to the principles and values for which modern, democratic nations stand.  We urge the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these shared principles not only in words, but also in deeds,” Blinken concluded.

According to a story in Haaertz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterated on Thursday that the new Israeli government no longer supports a 2018 joint declaration issued by the Polish government and the previous Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu that had rejected blaming Poland for the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.

“The declaration issued during Netanyahu’s time with Poland on the subject of the Holocaust is not in effect in my view and not for the current [Israeli] government,” Lapid told a press conference in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. “The subject of the relations with Poland is in my area of authority. All of the members of the cabinet know my positions on the subject. On the Polish subject, I don’t think there needs to be continuity with the prior government’s policy.”

This isn’t Poland’s first attempt at distancing itself from its Nazi past.

In 2018, the country’s parliament enacted a law threatening to jail those who imply the country had a role in the Holocaust, severely disrupting the rights of citizens there to participate in free speech.

The law, signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, makes it a crime punishable by up to three years imprisonment to claim that the Republic of Poland or the Polish nation was responsible for, or participated in, Nazi crimes during the Second World War.

According to the Human Rights Watch, under the law, the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body tasked with establishing an official historical narrative and prosecuting Nazi and Communist-era crimes, will now also be able to claim compensation from anyone “damaging the reputation” of Poland.

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