Holocaust Survivors Launch Polish Property Claim | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 20.03.2007
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Holocaust Survivors Launch Polish Property Claim

Holocaust survivors are joining forces with Poles whose property was expropriated by the Communists to get compensation.

Jews have not been compensated for losses in Poland

Jews have not been compensated for losses in Poland

Holocaust survivors whose properties in Poland were seized during World War II joined forces on Monday with Poles who lost their property to Communist nationalization to demand a law on compensation.

"Poland is the only country apart from Belarus where this issue has never been settled," said Jehuda Evron, chairman of the US-based Holocaust Restitution Committee.

He called on Polish lawmakers to act so elderly victims of expropriation "at the end of their lives should have a feeling that justice has been done."

Jewish and non-Jewish groups have joined forces to step up the pressure as Poland's parliament makes its 17th attempt to come up with legislation to settle the issue.

A draft bill currently before parliament, which would pay 15 percent compensation to former owners and their heirs, has drawn criticism from the groups.

Grenzpfeiler Polen Deutschland

Poland has had to face claims since it joined the EU in 2004

"We demand that a law is passed quickly to allow former property owners to recover their real estate, where possible, and where it is not, that they are compensated," said Miroslaw Szypowski, head of the National Association of Former Property Owners.

"The government hasn't consulted us," he added, referring to the 250,000-member Polish property-owners' association. "It's as if we don't exist."

Doing their utmost

Last month, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a delegation of Jewish campaigners that his government would do its utmost to ensure parliament passed a compensation law by the end of the year.

The value of seized property for which compensation is being sought is estimated at 16 billion euros to 18 billion euros ($21.3 billion to $23.9 billion), according to the property owners' association.

Jewish property was seized by Nazi Germany after the invasion of Poland in 1939.

After World War II, Poland's new Soviet-inspired Communist government nationalized property from non-Jewish Poles and from the few Jews who had survived the Holocaust.

German claims attacked

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel, Polen Ministerpräsident Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Merkel is trying to improve ties between the two

On Monday, Kaczynski also slammed the German government for failing to halt property claims by Germans expelled at the end of World War II from newly Polish territory.

"I must underline that in order to have genuinely normal relations between Poland and Germany ... this issue must be settled," Kaczynski told reporters, in the wake of a visit to Poland by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Kaczynski bemoaned the fact that Merkel's position during her visit "proved that there has been no progress on this issue."

Merkel's trip was aimed at patching up relations between Warsaw and Berlin, which have seen the historic wound of the Nazi occupation of Poland reopened since Poland's conservative twins -- the premier and his brother President Lech Kaczynski -- came to power.

No government support

In a speech at Warsaw University on Friday, Merkel said Berlin did not and would not support the Prussian Trust, a small German association which filed 22 claims late last year at the European Court of Human Rights seeking the restitution of property that lies in present-day Poland.

Warsaw, however, has repeatedly called on the German government to do more, notably by acting to prevent property lawsuits being brought by individuals.

Kaczynski, who has launched a series of stinging verbal attacks on Berlin about the issue, said Poland was pressing Germany "to decide finally to make a clear declaration that these claims have no basis in German and international law."

The claims stem from the redrawing of borders agreed by the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States at the 1945 Potsdam conference which saw large parts of eastern Germany awarded to Poland, which in turn lost a swathe of its own eastern territory to the Soviets.

Millions of Germans living in what is now northern and western Poland were expelled, leaving behind property and land.

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