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Polish Jews want compensation for nationalized property

Pressure is high on the Polish government to pay compensation to people who had private property seized by the Nazis during World War II and saw it nationalized by Communists afterwards.

Henrik Piekelny is a Holocaust survivor. His grandfather once owned a silk factory in Lodz. He died in the Warsaw ghetto. The factory was stolen by the Nazis during the war and was later taken over by the Polish government. After the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland, Henrick Piekelny began efforts to reclaim his family’s property.

“When they saw that we wanted to take over the factory they immediately nationalized the factory,” Henrikh told RT.

The Polish court refused to consider Piekelny’s case because the factory was no longer there. So Henrikh filed a case against Poland with the European Court on Human Rights.

Lawyer Monika Kravchyk deals with such cases. She says there is no difference between Jewish and Polish restitution. It concerns all Polish citizens who lost their property. However, the legal procedure is tougher when it comes to Polish Jews.

“They lost the possibility to identify where their ancestors were killed. If they were killed in Auschwitz, I would say from the procedures of the restitution process, this is not that bad because the Germans kept exact records. But if they were killed in Treblinka, no records were kept,” Monika explains.

Many buildings in central Warsaw once belonged to the Jews that perished in Nazi concentration camps. More than three million of them lived in Poland before the War – that’s 10% of Poland’s population. Only a handful survived.

Until now, Poland is the only country in Central and Eastern Europe that has no law on private property lost during World War Two. Only public property can be reclaimed. The cost of compensation is estimated at eight billion dollars. In addition, who is to pay all the other nationalities that had property in Poland before the war?

“It still strikes me as unthinkable that the same law will allow for the compensation of former German citizens who were expelled from the country after 1945. Legally, there’s no difference. Morally – there's an ocean of a difference. And on this I tend to favor the Polish government’s position which is that compensation for those people is the responsibility of the German government who started the war,” says journalist Konstanty Gebert.

Latest opinion polls show that 60% of Poles are against private restitution. As for the Jewish community, they fear that restitution of Jewish property could result in a new wave of anti-Semitism.