Prominent Jewish Leaders Slam Polish PM Over Holocaust Restitution Comment
Several prominent Jewish leaders on Monday denounced as “reprehensible” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s reported comment last week that paying compensation for Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust would be a “posthumous victory” for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“Poland was itself subjected to years of savage Nazi occupation, which makes its failure to appropriately confront the tragedy of millions of its Jewish citizens who were earmarked for annihilation by the Germans especially troubling,” World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder stated. “Successive Polish governments have steadfastly refused to recognize the material losses of Polish Jewry and have essentially treated their homes and other property as the spoils of war — and individual Poles and Polish institutions have profiteered from these assets for more than seven decades.”
“This unwillingness to acknowledge that the 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 that 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,” Lauder added. “I hope that Prime Minister Morawiecki was misquoted and can provide an explanation. Otherwise the sentiments underlying his words can only be characterized 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,” Lauder concluded.
B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said, “B’nai B’rith is appalled at the absolutist stance of the Polish government that it will never provide any restoration or compensation to Jews whose property was stolen during the Holocaust.”
“Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Law and Justice party have clung to the view that because Poland was also a victim of Nazi Germany it cannot be held responsible for crimes committed against Jews. They are therefore denying rightful and long-overdue compensation to Polish Jews whose property was stolen during World War II. However, some Poles did participate in crimes against Jews, before, during and after the war.”
“Poland’s post-war Communist regime nationalized much of the property stolen from Jews. Morawiecki says any restitution to Jews must be paid by Berlin. Last year in the shadow of a Polish law that would have criminalized talk of Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust, we noted that Poland must acknowledge a history of antisemitism that preceded the Holocaust and persists to this day.”
Earlier this month, hundreds of far-rightists marched in Warsaw to protest against a US law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War II, an issue increasingly featuring in campaigns for upcoming Polish elections.
Carrying placards with slogans including, “Poland has no obligations,” and, “Holocaust hyenas,” demonstrators marched from the prime minister’s office to the US embassy in central Warsaw.
Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities before it was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi German occupiers who set up death camps such as Auschwitz on Polish soil. Thousands of Jews were also killed by native Poles during the war.
Former owners and their descendants have been campaigning since the fall of communism in 1989 to be compensated for lost property, which was seized by Poland’s authoritarian rulers, but successive Polish administrations have lacked the money or determination to resolve the issue.
The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government — led by Morawiecki — has said that as a victim in World War II Poland should not be saddled with any financial obligations.