POLISH PRESIDENT Andrzej Duda.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Edna Kaplan’s grandfather Chaim was a prominent and respected citizen in Pultusk, Poland, a town not far from Warsaw. They were known for their generosity to anyone who needed help. Edna’s father, Symcha, grew up on the family farm in nearby Podos.
Symcha’s family was murdered in the Holocaust, except for him and his sister Lena. After the war Symcha returned to Poland looking for relatives. He stayed in a rooming house. When word got out that he had returned alive, the owner of the house ran in and told him people were on their way to kill him. He fled, and never returned to Poland.
Now, more than 70 years later, Edna Kaplan is seeking justice and the return of her family’s home and properties.
But Poland is still blocking the way.
Twenty-eight years after the fall of Communism, Poland is the only nation in the European Union that has failed to establish a national program to return private property wrongly taken from Polish Jews during the Holocaust and its aftermath. Thousands of Israeli Holocaust survivors, and Israeli heirs to survivors, continue to be victims of this historic injustice, the worst systematic theft of a people in history. They continue to wait for a fair restitution process to address the seizure of their property by the Nazis, and subsequent nationalization by the Communists.
This week, Polish President Andrzej Duda is in Israel for meetings with government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
We believe this is a critical opportunity for President Duda to demonstrate Poland’s commitment to return the private property taken from Jews and non-Jews – including the property of Jews from Poland now living in Israel and around the world.
As a proud member of the EU, Poland should join other countries in Europe that have expressed commitment to resolving this issue while survivors are still alive to benefit.
In 2009, Poland joined 46 other countries to approve 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 heirless.”
For a thousand years, Poland was a center of Jewish life.
Many Holocaust survivors and their families have visited Poland in recent years, from Israel, the United States and around the world to reconnect with their past. They often make the effort to see the houses they grew up in, and the businesses that they or their parents owned.
All that Kaplan and others seek is the return of that which belonged to them and their family, or some acknowledgment and compensation for what they lost.
In the interests of justice and compassion, now is the time.Gideon Taylor is the chairman of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
Colette Avital is secretary general of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.