In a letter addressed to the Polish prime minister on Monday, 59 US senators from both sides of the aisle said the Polish draft legislation would “adversely affect Holocaust victims and their heirs”.
The bill, announced by Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki last year, would see compensation paid out to people whose real estate was confiscated by Poland’s communist regime.
Under the bill, claimants would be entitled to cash payments worth 20 percent or bonds worth 25 percent of the value of the properties at the time of their “nationalisation", Jaki said last year.
But the US senators noted that the bill would require claimants to hold current Polish citizenship and would limit compensation to spouses, children or grandchildren.
They added that it would “eliminate the possibility of the return of actual property [and] provide only limited compensation”.
“As a result of the Nazi attempt to exterminate world Jewry, most European Jewish families were completely destroyed, including 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish community. Therefore, the remaining Jewish heirs are often non-linear – such as nieces, nephews and cousins,” the US senators wrote.
The senators also criticised the bill for putting a one-year deadline on lodging claims, after which time properties would be handed over to the Polish Treasury.
The US senators said that Poland, the US, Israel and 45 other countries in 2009 affirmed the so-called Terezin Declaration which urged signatories to pass national legislation that facilitates restitution “in a fair, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory manner”.
“We have been disappointed that Poland remains the only major European country that has not passed a national, comprehensive law for the restitution of, or compensation for, private property, but are hopeful that this will soon happen,” the US senators said.
They added that the bill, if it were to be enacted into law in its current form, would be “a failure of justice”.
In an interview for Polish state radio, Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudziński said Polish officials would reflect “calmly” and that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s response would “take into consideration … the interests of the Republic [of Poland], because that is what we are primarily guided by”.
“Poland is a democratic and sovereign country and in this exceptionally significant and important case we will be guided by our own decisions and the interests of our country,” Brudziński said.
Restitution claims in Poland date back to the seizure of property under the October 1945 Bierut Decree, named after former Polish communist leader Bolesław Bierut, which legalised the confiscation of private property.
Thousands of buildings were taken from their owners. After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, it has been possible to submit claims for the return of such confiscated property.
Many property returns which took place since 1989 are being probed by a Jaki-led commission and by prosecutors following allegations of massive malpractice at Warsaw City Hall. (vb/pk)