US Department of State reports on Jewish property restitution

The State Department has published its monitoring report in line with requirements of the Just Act (Law 447) which obliges the US government to monitor post-WWII restitution of Jewish property. The report notes that Poland is the only EU country that still does not have comprehensive legislation on restitution but does not make any recommendations for Poland on how to deal with the issue or when.

The JUST Act was signed into law by President Trump in May 2018. The law obliges the US administration to support international organisations which support the victims of the holocaust and to give diplomatic aid to efforts at restitution of heirless Jewish property.

The US Embassy in Warsaw has published the report on Poland on its portal. The report indicates that Poland is the only state in the EU where the issue of restitution of post-Holocaust property is still to be resolved in a holistic manner.

The State Department’s report acknowledges that there is a civil law process for restoration of property which has been used by individual families. However, it notes the views of Holocaust survivors and their families that the process in Poland is complicated, costly and cumbersome as well as often being ineffective. Some also complain that even after the return of the property, actions by tenants or other entities make it impossible to manage or dispose of the property in line with the owner’s wishes.

The document also states that over 50 percent of applications for the return of property to Jewish religious communes remain unresolved. The report states that Poland has no legislative provisions for the return of heirless property from the times of the Holocaust, nor compensation or restitution of valuables belonging to Jews. There is also criticism of the fact that legislation from the 1960s on compensating US citizens of Jewish extraction did not envisage compensation for individuals who became US citizens after the Holocaust.

The report does, however, praise Poland for funding museums and commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. Its conclusions do not oblige the Polish authorities to take any specific actions.

Comment:

The JUST Act is a law on monitoring progress with post-holocaust property restitution. The issue is especially tricky and sensitive in Poland because of the scale of the phenomenon.

The property was in many cases destroyed or robbed by the occupying German forces. What remained after the war was often nationalised and restored at considerable expense to the public purse.

Poland did not receive German reparations after the war. This was because Poland was pressured by the USSR not to make claims against the German Democratic Republic, a state that was only recognised by the communist world. Nor did Poland receive any Marshall Aid as the Soviets suspected it would be used as a political lever.

This is why Poland is currently considering making claims for reparations from Germany. Any such claim would be likely to include provisions for Jewish property from the time of the Holocaust.

The fact that the state department includes nothing that obliges Poland to act shows that Law 447 is not one that can directly lead to claims. However, it is a source of pressure for the future at a diplomatic level. It makes certain that the restitution debate will not go away any time soon.


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