President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar )
Dear Mr. President,
Israel and Poland today enjoy a deep friendship.
Your visit to Israel is
further evidence of the strength of that relationship.
support for each other, and it also demands that we be open and honest about our
views and opinions – even if they are sometimes uncomfortable for the other to
Nearly a quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the
Polish government has not taken significant action to return formerly
Jewish-owned private property that was lost during the Shoah.
survivors and their families have made journeys back to Poland. While there,
they often see the houses where they grew up and the businesses that they ran.
All that they seek is the return of that which belonged to them.
percent of the approximately 3.5 million Jews who lived in Poland prior to WWII
were killed in the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of owners in Israel and around
the world – and heirs of victims who were owners – of real property in Poland
continue to be left without what is theirs.
The World Jewish Restitution
Organization (WJRO) has worked for years to present proposals for meaningful
legislation to solve the problem.
Poland stands alone as the only major
country in Central and Eastern Europe, and member state of the European Union,
without such a law. Since Poland became a democracy in 1989, a number of bills
have been proposed to deal with the restitution of, or compensation for, private
property seized by the Nazis and/or later nationalized by the Communist regime.
None have become law.
Moreover, after repeated, unfulfilled commitments
to pass a restitution bill over the years, the officials of your government
recently claimed that such a law is unnecessary. Instead, they assert that
restitution claimants should go to the Polish court system to seek justice,
despite the fact that in most cases such a complex, expensive, burdensome and
time-consuming path would serve – and, for years, has served – as a de facto
barrier to elderly survivors and their heirs.
The fact that Poland did
enact legislation to return communal property shows that progress can be
An international consensus now exists.
The 2009 Prague
Conference culminated in approval by over 40 countries of the Terezin
Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues. The Declaration stated
in part: “Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable
property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims
of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to
rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures... which were part of the
persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died
Mr President, please urge your government to promptly
introduce and enact legislation that includes the following:
• The restitution
of and/or compensation for property seized by the Nazis and their collaborators,
beginning in September 1939;
• The return of the confiscated property or, if not
possible, fair and timely compensation; and
• A simple claims process, without
legal obstacles, which provides for easy access to relevant archives.
must always move forward to the future together as two peoples who share many
common visions and goals. But the way to the future lies through facing up to
and addressing the past.
Three million Polish Jews did not survive and
can never recover that which was taken. But their families, and the survivors
and their children, can.
We ask you, Mr. President, to take on the
challenge of righting a historic wrong.Colette Avital is secretary of
the World Jewish Restitution Organization and chairwoman of the Center of
Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Lilli Haber is president of the
Association of Polish Jews in Israel.