Grapevine August 18, 2021: Pole vaulting

Publication Date18 August 2021
Last month, just a few short weeks before Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the contentious legislation that more or less put an end to the possibility of reclaiming property or being compensated for lost property, Israel's chargé d'affaires in Poland, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, in an address to the Polish joint Senate committees, said: "I stand here today on behalf of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people. Our country has arisen from the ashes of the Holocaust. I stand here for the survivors and thanks to the survivors, as a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, as a descendant of a Polish Jew who was murdered in the Holocaust.

"They were, and some of them still are, this country's citizens. Poland was their home. This is where they flourished for centuries, the largest Jewish community in the world. They lost everything during the Holocaust, and so the issue of their property is an issue of dignity, of justice and of memory.

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"We are here to give a voice to Holocaust survivors and their descendants, whose property was first seized by the Nazis, and later nationalized by the Communists. These survivors have the right, historically, morally and legally, to present their claims and to receive the compensation they deserve for their property. After all their suffering, it is the very least they are owed.

"We share a moral obligation to respect the rights of Holocaust survivors, former citizens of Poland, current citizens of Israel. It is our duty. Each and every one of us.

"We understand Poland wants to strengthen proprietary certainty for its current citizens, but denying the previous owners their rights cannot be the way. This legislation, in its current form, will severely hurt the rights of former and current Polish citizens whose property was seized during World War II and under the Soviet occupation.

"This legislation deals with thousands, if not tens of thousands of administrative decisions, taken during Soviet times by the Communist regime, in violation of the law, in order to nationalize private property.

"For many years, after the fall of Communism, it was the administrative legal system that enabled former owners to exercise their rights and reclaim their property.

"This administrative code stood as a lighthouse, shining light on the rights of Poles who were wronged by the Communist regime, to reclaim what was theirs. It wasn't just about Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, that upon coming back to their hometowns, discovered their houses were taken and new families lived there, nor about the Polish Jews who were forced out of Poland after the events of March 1968; the administrative act enabled all, regardless of ethnicity and religion, to pursue their rights in court, in the hope of achieving justice."

Similar points were made by Weiss and Rav-Ner, but Weiss, who is a political scientist, who has taught at the universities of Haifa and Warsaw, went a step further last week in an interview that he gave to the Polish publication Rzeczpospolita.

Germany owes Poland compensation for World War II, because the Germans destroyed Poland during the war, he said, emphasizing that Poland was correct in demanding war reparations from Germany.

"Poland can tell the Germans that they slaughtered millions of Poles, destroyed Warsaw.... The German side owes reparations to Poland because the Germans destroyed Poland," said Weiss.

With regard to the restitution law, Weiss referred to it as "an open wound" in Polish-Israeli relations, adding that the whole reparations issue calls for dialogue. He repeated this in interviews in Israel.

Poland has been stating for years that there must eventually be a cutoff date for reparations. Too much has happened in the period of more than eight decades since Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. After the war, Poland was taken over by the Soviets, and there was little or no room for property claims. Then came the end of Communist rule, and Poland for some years embraced democracy and developed a...

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