Restitution Resolution?

The United States wants Poland to “immediately enact” legislation on the complex issue of restitution of property confiscated by the Germans and communists during and after World War II. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs endorsed a resolution to this effect on 16th July after being lobbied through by American Jewish organisations.

The congressmen want to see an “unbureaucratic, simple, transparent and timely” process that will benefit the now elderly former owners of property, artwork and shares through the prompt and fair return of property, or the payment of compensation. Although the resolution mentions Lithuania, Poland is noted as virtually alone among post-communist countries in having failed to enact restitution legislation.

Poland is the world leader in the number of potential restitution claims, with an estimated value today of 60-100 billion zloty for property appropriated by the Germans during the war, or the communists afterwards. The situation is not helped by the lack of reliable data on how many people were affected, as both passed a prolific amount of legislation that removed property rights and many records were destroyed during the war.

The U.S. has been pressing the Polish government on this subject for two decades, and the congressmen on the committee told Poland’s daily Gazeta Wyborcza that despite heavy voter pressure, the resolution could have been much firmer. The congressmen’s advisor pointed out that had the resolution been adopted even 10 years ago, the cost to the Polish budget would have been lower, and added that there is no expectation that 100 percent or even 50 percent of the property’s value will be returned.

Donald Tusk’s team has been drawing up a restitution bill that will be ready by September and should be submitted to Parliament in October. It is thought that it does not foresee the return of actual property but the payment of a proportion (thought to be 20 percent) of its value. It will apply to property taken between 1944-1962 and to all who held Polish citizenship at that moment. Although this won’t fully satisfy the property owners, it is clear that it will be impossible for Poland to fund this sum of money from its budget when it has so many other urgent social needs to resolve. Any solution must take into account Poland’s fiscal reality as well as the sentiment of the Polish population, which doesn’t understand why today’s generations have to bear the costs of German occupation and communist lawlessness.

The US Senate’s foreign affairs committee will vote on a similar resolution shortly and if passed, the two resolutions will become the U.S. Congress’ official position, but will not result in any more actions being taken toward Poland.

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