1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Far-right Poles protest compensating stolen Jewish property

May 11, 2019

Polish nationalists say that Poland should not be required to pay compensation for assets stolen from Jews during World War II. A recent US law is intended to assist Holocaust survivors in recovering stolen property.

Polish far-right protest in Warsaw
Image: Reuters/A. Gazeta

Thousands of far-right Polish nationalists marched on the streets of the capital, Warsaw, on Saturday to protest a US law that puts pressure on Poland to compensate assets stolen from Jews during World War II.

Polish nationalists reject calls for Poland to pay compensation, saying that Poles themselves were among the primary victims of Nazi atrocities. 

Nationalist groups also claim that Poland never received adequate compensation from Germany for war crimes. Last year, the Polish Senate passed legislation that criminalizes accusing the Polish state of the crimes committed by the Germans during World War II.

"We will not allow any damages to be paid to anyone because it is us who should get damages," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told state-run PAP news at an election rally on Saturday. 

US law seeks restitution 

Far-right protesters marching in Warsaw on May 11
Far-right protesters marching in Warsaw on May 11Image: Reuters/A. Gazeta

The law in question, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, was signed by US President Donald Trump in 2018. It is intended to assist Holocaust survivors and their descendants with the return of assets "wrongfully seized or transferred" from Jews during the Holocaust era.

The law requires that the US State Department monitor countries' legal steps in the recovery and return of assets stolen during the Holocaust to their "rightful owners."

Read more: As Holocaust survivors grow older, activists keep their stories alive

Countries covered by the bill are signatories to the Terezin Declaration, the outcome of the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference, which was signed by 46 nations, including Poland.

On a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday, a US State Department special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism said that the act would only require Poland to prepare a report on compliance, and that it was Poland's decision on how to comply.

Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina odd ones out 

According to the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the only two European countries to have not established a "comprehensive private property restitution regime" for property taken during the Holocaust.

In April 2019, hundreds of Polish nationalists in New York City protested against the JUST Act. Israeli daily Haaretz reported that some protesters held signs reading "stop the Holocaust industry."

Read more: Eastern Europe fails pledges to return Jewish property, says study

Some far-right groups in Poland have claimed that the law could result in demands for compensation costs of Jewish property amounting to billions of euros. 

In 1939, Poland was home to an estimated 3.5 million Jews, which was the largest population in Europe at the time. The Jewish community in Poland was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi Germany during World War II. 

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.                                                                                                             


Wesley Rahn Editor and reporter focusing on geopolitics and Asia