UK joins opposition to Polish anti-restitution law

The UK expressed disappointment at the passing of the Polish law limiting opportunities for property restitution.

British House of Commons in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)
British House of Commons in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The United Kingdom came out against a new law in Poland that would make it nearly impossible for victims of the Holocaust and their descendants to reclaim confiscated property.

Minister at the Foreign Office Wendy Morton tweeted on Wednesday, “We are disappointed by the passage of legislation limiting opportunities for property restitution in Poland.

“Legal avenues for the victims of the Holocaust, their families & descendants to pursue such claims must remain open,” Morton added.

Morton joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who also spoke out against the law, and urged Poland “to develop a clear, efficient and effective legal procedure to resolve confiscated property claims and provide some measure of justice for victims. In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property was unjustly taken, including that of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.”

That controversial law, which Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into effect on Saturday, is at the center of a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Poland, with both sides withdrawing their ambassadors.

About 90% of Polish Jewry – 3,000,000 people – were murdered by the Nazis.

Polish Communist authorities confiscated property across the country in the 1940s and 1950s, including property that had been owned by Jews before World War II. Some of the property had been seized illegally and could theoretically be reclaimed through Polish courts.

However, the new law would not allow such proceedings to take place if 30 years have passed since the property was confiscated. Legal proceedings that have already begun more than 30 years after the confiscation will be dismissed once the law comes into force. The fall of Communism in Poland took place 32 years ago.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the new law “immoral, antisemitic” on Saturday.

“We will not tolerate contempt for the memory of those who perished and for the memory of the Holocaust,” he warned.

MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI: ‘As long as I am prime minister, Poland will surely not pay for German crimes.’ (credit: CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)
MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI: ‘As long as I am prime minister, Poland will surely not pay for German crimes.’ (credit: CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Sunday that “Israel’s decision to lower the rank of the diplomatic representation in Warsaw is groundless and irresponsible, and the words of [Lapid] arouse the outrage of every honest person.

“No one who knows the truth about the Holocaust and the suffering of Poland during World War II can agree to such a way of conducting politics,” he added.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Monday, “Unfortunately, Warsaw does not preserve the memory of either the victims or the liberators, which we have been talking about for a long time.”

Poland and Russia have been engaged in a yearslong dispute over the memory of victims of World War II, with each side arguing that the other was instrumental in starting the war.