World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has condemned reported comments by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s about restitution of property stolen during the Holocaust to Polish Jews.
Lauder described attributed quotes by the Polish leader that providing restitution to Jews for stolen property would be ‘Hitler’s posthumous victory’ as “reprehensible” and “alarming in the extreme”.
Discussing the issue, Lauder is clearly furious and explained that Poland was subjected to years of savage Nazi occupation, which makes its failure to appropriately confront the tragedy of millions of its Jewish citizens earmarked for annihilation especially troubling.
“Successive Polish governments have steadfastly refused to recognise the material losses of Polish Jewry and have essentially treated their homes and other property as the spoils of war,” said Lauder, who observed that individual Poles and Polish institutions had profiteered from assets for over seven decades.
“This unwillingness to acknowledge that victims of the Holocaust and their heirs are entitled to a modicum of material justice is unfortunate enough but Prime Minister Morawiecki’s contention, assuming it was uttered as reported, that providing restitution to Jews for their stolen property would be ‘Hitler’s posthumous victory’ is alarming in the extreme.
“I hope Prime Minister Morawiecki was misquoted and can provide an explanation, otherwise, the sentiments underlying his words can only be characterised as reprehensible and must be thoroughly rejected. As a longtime friend of Poland and the Polish people, I call upon Prime Minister Morawiecki to either deny or retract this deeply offensive and utterly incomprehensible statement.”
Aside from the latest Morawiecki controversy, Lauder called on political and religious leaders to denounce recent anti-Semitism, including the citation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by the Bishop of Tarnow in a lead article for a Polish newspaper.
And this followed increase diplomatic tensions between Israel and Poland which hit a new low last week after Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem after he was assaulted near the embassy in Tel Aviv.
Israeli officials expressed shock and are investigating the assault.
Since the incident, the Foreign Ministry has beefed up safeguards to avoid further attacks.
The assault came amid deepening hostility between the nations since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed new legislation prohibiting any reference to “Polish nation” crimes during the Holocaust last January. The bill also banned the term “Polish” death camp.
Those violating the statute, including non-Polish citizens, could be fined or imprisoned up to three years. And Jewish survivors from Poland living in Israel would be liable in theory for imprisonment.
Israel felt the Polish government was not taking responsibility for Poles who helped Nazis murder Jews during the Shoah.
Whilst the law has since softened, tensions continue.
Poland recently cancelled an Israeli delegation from the Ministry of Social Equality where officials were set to discuss restitution of property confiscated from Jews during the Holocaust.
Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed last-minute changes to the talks but the Polish government has stated it won’t discuss property restitution. And Morawiecki has recently reiterated his country will not pay compensation for property lost in World War Two.
Morawiecki also holds the view that Poland was a victim of the Nazis.
His comments followed the largest anti-Jewish rally for years as Polish nationalists marched to the American Embassy in Warsaw protesting against the JUST Act, signed by US President Donald Trump last year.
Protesters carried banners absolving Polish responsibility and US aid to benefit Jews. Nationalists claim restitution would hit the Polish economy by up to $300 billion. The US bill requires a State Department report to Congress on property stolen during the Holocaust in dozens of countries.
Restitution is a huge campaign issue at European Union elections with Polish general elections due in November.
Poland is the only EU member not to have passed laws regulating restitution for Jewish Holocaust survivors and families according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).
By Howard Lawrence