Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 30, 2008


After years of delay, the Polish government aims to complete the issue of Holocaust property restitution by the end of the year, Polish Ambassador to Israel Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska said Sunday.

The core of a bill, which was accepted by the Polish parliament in draft form two years ago, is ready, and the Polish government hopes to reach a resolution by the end of the year, she said in a briefing with Israeli journalists.

The draft bill passed its initial reading in the previous parliament, but it needs to be reintroduced due to the recent change of government. The bill would pay 20 percent compensation to former property-owners – both Jewish and non-Jewish – whose property was seized during World War II.

Polish officials estimate that the Jewish-owned private property makes up nearly 20% of all property taken.

The biggest claimants are from non-Jewish Polish nobility whose assets – including lavish palaces – were confiscated.

Moreover, many of the areas populated by Jews ahead of WWII – the so-called Galicia region – are now located outside the boundaries of present-day Poland and fall in Ukraine.

Magdziak-Miszewska said it was important for Poland to finalize the agreement for both historical and economic reasons, since claimants who have taken their cases directly to Polish courts have been receiving 100% compensation for their property.

“It is [both] moral justice and the real economic interest of Poland to end this issue,” she said.

Magdziak-Miszewska said the Polish government was currently considering whether to increase the amount of compensation it would offer.

The total value of seized property is estimated to be around ˆ16 billion-ˆ18b. ($21b.-24b.), according to Polish groups working to attain the compensation.

A 1997 agreement has already started the process of public property restitution in Poland.

Magdziak-Miszewska’s remarks came ahead of next month’s visit to Israel by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The visit, which is the first such trip by a Polish premier in nearly nine years, comes as Israel plans its 60th anniversary and as burgeoning ties between Israel and Poland are now among the strongest in Europe.

“We try to balance traditionally old Europe’s one-sided Pro-Palestinian position,” Magdziak-Miszewska said. “Both countries need each other.”

Tusk’s visit also coincides with the inauguration of “Polish year” in Israel, an effort to increase cultural ties between the two countries.

Magdziak-Miszewska said gaps still existed despite the excellent governmental relations between the two countries, and the ties between the two societies.

To that end, a new youth exchange program will be launched between Israel and Poland next month, beyond the Holocaust education trips Israeli teens make to Poland each year.

“We need to work for the future – remembering the Shoah, but also 1,000 years of coexistence,” Magdziak-Miszewska said.