WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's Senate on Friday approved with some amendments much-disputed changes to property restitution rules, moving them a step closer to adoption.
The draft regulations have drawn strong criticism from Israel and from Jewish organizations who say the new administrative law would prevent Jewish claims for compensation or property seized during the Holocaust and communist times.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the legislation will “severely damage our relations with Poland.”
If adopted, the changes would prevent property ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years. It affects Polish, Jewish and other property. Poland says it is a response to fraud and irregularities that have emerged in the restitution process, leading to evictions or giving real estate to property dealers.
The changes have been ordered by the Constitutional Court which ruled in 2015 that the current state of administrative regulations was against Poland's supreme law.
Poland's authorities insist restitution claims will still be possible through courts, regardless of the claimants nationality or place of residence.
The amended draft now goes to the parliament’s lower chamber for approval and then will need the signature of President Andrzej Duda, who has spoken in its favor.
Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, has urged the lower chamber to “reject the bill in its entirety.”
He said the organization encourages Poland to “once and for all settle the issue of private property by adopting comprehensive restitution legislation.”
"As the remaining Holocaust survivors get older, they deserve a measure of justice in their lifetime,” Taylor said.
Before World War II, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany’s occupation and their property was confiscated. Poland’s post-war communist authorities seized those properties, along with the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities. The end of communism in 1989 opened the door to restitution claims, most of which would be coming from Poles.
The still unresolved matter has been a constant source of bitterness and political tension between Poland and Israel.
In 2001, a draft law foreseeing compensation for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. He claimed it violated social equality principles and would hurt Poland’s economic development, implying that compensation claims would result in large payouts. He said individual claims should be made through the courts.
Poland is the only European country that has not offered any compensation for private property seized by the state in its recent history. Only the remaining communal Jewish property, like some synagogues, prayer houses and cemeteries, mostly in disrepair, have been returned where possible or compensated for.
This story has been corrected to show that Israeli minister's first name is Yair, not Yari.