A general view of the cityscape, with the Palace of Culture and Science (2nd R), is pictured from the construction site of a new skyscraper in Warsaw, Poland October 2, 2015. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Holocaust survivors and their families have six months to reclaim property unjustly taken from them, after the city of Warsaw released an initial list of 48 properties last week.
According to a controversial property restitution law passed in 2016, rightful claimants have half a year to pursue their property claim, and then three months to prove their right to the property. Any property which is not claimed before that deadline will be permanently transferred to the city of Warsaw.
Critics of the law have argued that six months is not enough time for the process. The World Jewish Restitution Organization called on Polish authorities to extend the deadline, release a complete list of properties and claimants and to actively work to identify and notify potential claimants.
“It is unfair for claimants – particularly those who now live outside of Poland – to lose this last opportunity to reconnect with their past because of the administrative complexity of this law,” Gideon Taylor, the organization’s chairman of operations, said in a statement.
“The problems with this legislation highlight the urgent need for comprehensive national property restitution legislation in Poland,” Taylor added.
“Poland remains the only country in Europe that does not have a national law to address private property restitution from the Holocaust era. We urge the government of Poland to address this issue promptly so that Holocaust survivors and their heirs, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, can receive a small measure of justice.”
The law, which took effect in September 2016, applies only to people who filed property claims in the city of Warsaw after 1945, when the Communist authorities in Poland issued the Decree on Ownership and Usufruct of Land in Warsaw, known as the Warsaw Decree.
The decree allowed former owners of the nationalized property to apply for temporary ownership rights, but according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the Communist authorities rejected or did not review most of the applications.
The organization asserts that many claimants, or their heirs, are unaware that they now have an opportunity to pursue their claims, some 70 years after they originally filed them.
The organization launched its own database in December to assist Holocaust survivors and their families in identifying their property. The database matches different historical Warsaw city records, allowing users to look for the names of family members or Warsaw building addresses to help determine if they, or someone else, filed a claim that may remain open for the property.
The law does not address people who did not file claims right after World War II or people with property outside of Warsaw.