Polish-born Holocaust survivor Meyer Hack shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm during a news conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem June 15, 2009..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The World Jewish Restitution Organization welcomed Poland's intention to tackle the issue of confiscated property on Wednesday, but voiced its disappointment over the Polish government's ongoing failure to legislate on Holocaust-era restitution in a "comprehensive manner."
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki announced legislative proposals to grant cash compensation to those stripped of their property by the pro-Soviet communist regime that governed Poland following the Second World War, offering compensation of up to 20% of the value of confiscated property. In many cases, property was initially looted by the Nazis and subsequently seized by the Communists.
Jaki told Polish television channel TVN24 that the proposal was long overdue, saying, "I'm ashamed that it has taken Poland until now, 28 years after the fall of Communism, to prepare such a bill. This should have been taken care of a long time ago."
Poland is the only major European country that has not yet legislated for the restitution of property seized by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), which works toward the restitution of private and Jewish communal property seized during the Holocaust in Europe, was limited in its praise for the proposals and urged Poland to legislate in a "just and fair" way.
"We welcome the recognition today by Poland that national legislation is needed to address the issue of confiscated property," said WJRO's Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor.
"However, it is essential that restitution or compensation be full and complete and that it be just and fair for all who lost property, including Polish survivors of the Holocaust and their families," he added.
"This legislation needs to bring a measure of justice to those former Polish citizens who suffered so much, should take into the account the destruction of the Holocaust and must not discriminate based on current citizenship."
Taylor said that he is looking forward to discussing the details of the proposals in the next few weeks when the government is expected to release the text of the draft legislation.
The WJRO was established by leading world Jewish organizations following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Since it began operations in 1993, it has negotiated with national and local governments to ensure restitution of Jewish property or compensation where restitution is not possible and has established foundations in Poland, Romania and Lithuania to administer and utilize returned communal property.
On the eve of the 1939 German-Soviet occupation of Poland, the country was home to 3.3 million Jews. Only 380,000 remained alive at the end of the Second World War. It is estimated that 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were also killed during the war.