(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday expressed his concern about Polish legislation thought to be discriminatory against Holocaust survivors.
In a letter sent to his Polish counterparts, Marshal of the Senate Stanislaw Karczewski and Marshal of the lower house Sejm Marek Kuchcinski, he said the proposal would “effectively prevent [survivors] from applying for compensation for property taken from them during the dark years of Nazi rule.”
The bill in question requires anyone seeking restitution for nationalized property to be Polish citizens and residents, spouses, children or grandchildren of the original owners.
Some three million Polish Jews, about 90% of Poland’s prewar Jewish population, were murdered in the Holocaust.
“I appreciate the intent of this legislation, which seeks to provide fair compensation for property nationalized under Poland’s former Communist regime,” Edelstein, who was a political dissident in Soviet Russia, wrote. “At the same time, I am concerned about the implications of this law for Polish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and their descendants.”
“Preserving the memory of the Holocaust and addressing its ongoing implications fairy, justly and honestly is a matter of great importance to Israel and Jewish communities worldwide,” he wrote.
The Knesset speaker expressed confidence that the houses of Poland’s Parliament can pass a law that achieves its aims without denying justice to Holocaust survivors and their relatives.
Last week, Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari lodged an official complaint with the Polish Foreign Ministry over the bill.
“Israel believes the envisaged legislation discriminates against Holocaust survivors,” read a draft of Azari’s letter of protest, whose content an official in Jerusalem shared with JTA on Friday.
The letter constitutes a departure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s usual approach to restitution issues in recent decades, in which the ministry has played a facilitating role while refraining from directly commenting on legislation or unresolved restitution issues.
The letter objects to the exclusion of non-citizens and second-degree relatives from restitution under the new bill.
It notes that Nazi persecution meant no other groups “shared the fate of the Jews” in occupied Poland.
“First, the Nazis seized private property and then the communist authorities of Poland seized it, when most Polish Jews were already dead,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to speak to media about the issue.
Because the Holocaust “wiped out a whole generation” of Polish Jews, the official added, “it means the bulk of Jewish claimants are not direct descendants.
That’s the discriminatory element in the bill.”JTA contributed to this report.