Ronald Lauder laments Polish decision to halt property restitution process

The head of the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Ronald S. Lauder, has expressed shock and dismay at the announcement that the government of Poland has suspended work on legislation to provide compensation for former property owners whose assets were confiscated during the Communist period, among them many Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Lauder said: "Regrettably, the Polish government has said that for financial reasons they cannot move forward on legislation to compensate for confiscated property. For us, this is an issue of justice and not money."

Lauder went on to declare: "We are greatly disturbed by this turn of events as Polish officials have been publicly stating for many years - indeed too many years -  that the property restitution and compensation issue would be addressed and legislation introduced in Parliament. By its announcement this week, Poland is telling many elderly pre-war landowners, including Holocaust survivors, that they have no foreseeable hope of even a small measure of justice for the assets that were seized from them." The WJC president added: "This issue has been under discussion in Poland for almost two decades, through many economic periods, including the present one when Poland is experiencing some of the strongest economic growth in the European Union. It is unacceptable that Poland cannot find some way to meet its responsibility to former landowners."

"Most central and eastern European countries have adopted some type of law to provide for the restitution of or compensation for confiscated property. Poland stands out for its failure to do so," stated Lauder.

WJC Secretary-General Michael Schneider also called the Polish government's decision "disappointing and unfair". He declared: "We must help old people, particularly Holocaust survivors, who in their twilight years need the means to cope with the problems of old age. Many Holocaust survivors who came from Poland to the the United States, Israel, Britain and other countries are suffering because they do not have enough money to pay for home care. Most of these people do not have families either as they lost them in the Holocaust, and they are lonely."

Last week, the Polish government had suspended progress of a bill on compensation payments for nationalized property, explaining that the bill, which has been under discussion since 2008, could not be financed due to the current economic climate. The Treasury Department in Warsaw said in a statement: "If this legislation were to come into effect in 2012 [...], public debt would grow by PLZ 18 billion (US$ 6.2 billion), and the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product would grow by some 1.0 to 1.1 percentage points," the statement said. Compensation payouts for properties seized during the Communist era "could make Poland exceed the public debt ceiling" of 60 percent of GDP which is required by the European Union for countries wishing to join the single currency, the euro.

When work began on drafting the legislation in 2008, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk promised that "all Polish citizens from before World War II, whether they be ethnically Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian or German" would receive restitution for their properties nationalized by the communist regime. However, unlike most of its neighbours, Poland is yet to produce legislation on property first seized during the Nazi occupation, then nationalized by the post-war Communist regime and not returned after Poland became a democracy in 1989. An estimated two million land owners are affected by the decision.

The World Jewish Congress is a founder of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which was established in 1992 as an umbrella organization of several international Jewish groups. The WJRO seeks restitution of private and communal Jewish property and compensation when restitution is not possible. The WJRO works with both governmental and Jewish organizations in order to assure appropriate restitution legislation and recovery of looted Jewish property.

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