Poland has always made it very difficult for Jews to reclaim property lost because of the Holocaust, lost because their property was seized and confiscated by Nazis. Now Poland is upping the ante.
The Polish government has decided to make it impossible.
The government of Poland is applying a statute of limitations of 30 years on all property claims. World War II ended 74 years ago. That means that even claims that are in the Polish courts — and some have been there for nearly two decades — are nullified.
If a Jewish factory was confiscated in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, the statute of limitations ended in 1969. That is absurd!
It gets worse,
For decades Polish government after Polish government put stumbling blocks in the way of Jews even if there was a property deed. As for the chances of actually having a property deed — not very likely at all.
For a Jew of Polish ancestry wishing to reclaim property, that deed, that simple piece of paper, would have had to survive expulsion from their home to life in an overcrowded ghetto, to starvation, to deportation from that ghetto to transport to work camps or to death camps. We know the chances of a person surviving — but a piece of paper?
And it gets even worse.
Poland had a pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 3 million. Before the war, Warsaw was the second largest Jewish city in the world, the first was New York City. Over 90% of the Jews of Poland were murdered, either directly or indirectly, by Nazis during the Holocaust.
And all along, Poland has required families of victims, who themselves might be survivors, to present proof of death in order to claim family property. You read that correctly. People are required to present death certificates, in addition to property deeds, in order to claim property.
The Nazis, as meticulous as they were in record-keeping, did not provide death certificates. They murdered, they dug mass graves, they cremated. Death certificates were not on their agenda.
Poland claims that they are not responsible for the actions of the Nazis. They are correct. That is true.
The Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw has released a statement that reads: “Poland bears no responsibility for the Holocaust, which was a crime committed by the German occupiers, among others against Polish citizens of Jewish nationality.”
The current Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki made the point even sharper when he said: “I can only say that as long as I am the PM, Poland will surely not pay for the German crimes. Not a zloty, not a euro, not a dollar.”
Ethically and legally, this attitude by the government of Poland is problematic.
While it is true that the Nazis confiscated the properties, after the war Polish Communists took over all the stolen property. And when the Communists were ousted, the democratic Polish government, the government that is still in power today, inherited all those properties.
For the past 70 years the citizens of Poland and their government have gained from and enjoyed and prospered from those properties. Property they never paid for — because the property was stolen.
Restitution is the moral act for Poland. But they refuse.
There is a thriving Jewish community living in Poland today. And Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, was invited to address the Polish senate committee debating the law for reclaiming property.
The senate is the higher house of Polish representation. The Jerusalem Post reported on the committee meeting and quoted Poland’s Chief Rabbi saying: “One of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou shall not steal.’”
He continued: “This property was stolen twice: once by the Germans when they occupied the country, and the second time by the Communists after the war. The current Polish government is a successor to the Communist one, albeit very different — and ‘Thou shall not steal’ continues to apply 60 years and 80 years after a theft happened,”.
Poland is struggling with its past.
There is no historical doubt that Poland was conquered and occupied and ravaged by the Nazis in World War II. And in order to live with themselves and justify the role they played during World War II, the people of Poland have chosen to change history, to revise history and to see themselves as victims of the Nazis. And that’s where historical accuracy ends.
Citizens of European countries, during the Holocaust, were divided into three groups.
Some were “victims” of Nazi horrors.
Some were “collaborators” with the Nazis.
The vast majority were “bystanders.”
Most Poles were “bystanders.” The Poles were simply trying to get by and survive the awful situation that was going on around them.
Today Poland is trying to maneuver and massage the message and transform themselves from “bystander” to “victim.”
Psychologically, it is much easier to live with yourself and to tell your children and grandchildren that you were a victim of Nazi oppression than to tell them that you did nothing and simply watched as atrocities took place around you.
That might make Poles feel better, but Jews, the primary target of the Holocaust, are being victimized once again — this time by the government of Poland.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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