Poland’s president signs bill to curb claims on property seized by Nazis

Poland’s president has decided to sign a bill that would set limits on the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and retained by postwar communist rulers, drawing fury from Israel, which said the law was antisemitic.

“I made a decision today on the act, which in recent months was the subject of a lively and loud debate at home and abroad,” Andrzej Duda said in a statement published on Saturday. “After an in-depth analysis, I have decided to sign the amendment.”

Before the second world war Poland had been home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis, and Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation.

Up to now Jewish expatriates or their descendants could make a claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return, but Polish officials argued this was causing uncertainty over property ownership.

In 2015 Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled there should be specific deadlines after which administrative decisions over property titles could no longer be challenged. Changes to the law were adopted by the Polish parliament earlier this week. The bill sets a 30-year limit for restitution claims.

The issue of Jewish property rights in Poland is further complicated because, unlike other EU states, it has not created a fund to compensate to people whose property was seized.

The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, condemned the law and said Israel would not stand by at its approval. “It is a shameful decision and a disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust,” he said in a statement.

Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said: “Poland today, for the first time, approved an antisemitic and immoral law.” In response, the head of Israel’s embassy in Warsaw was being called back immediately, he added.

“Poland has tonight become an anti-democratic, non-liberal country that does not honour the greatest tragedy in human history,” Lapid said.

A new ambassador to Warsaw will not be sent at this stage, he said. He also suggested Poland’s ambassador to Israel extend his holiday and not return to the country.

“He should use the time he has on his hands to explain to the Poles what the Holocaust means to Israel’s citizens and the extent to which we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of those who perished and for the memory of the Holocaust. It will not stop here,” Lapid said.

Israel was discussing further steps with the United States, he added.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Thursday said Washington was deeply concerned that the Polish parliament had passed the bill, and urged Duda not to sign it into law.

Washington is one of Warsaw’s most important allies, but relations between the countries have been strained by the property problem, as well as other issues such as plans to introduce changes that the opposition says aim to silence a US-owned news channel critical of the government.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) on Saturday urged the Polish government to work on resolving the issue of property seized in the past.

“Democracy and justice hits new low in Poland, as president Duda signs a law making it virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally seized during the Communist era,” Gideon Taylor, chair of operations of the WJRO, told Reuters.

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