Britain reaffirms position of Holocaust-era property restitution

The British government reaffirmed its support for Holocaust-era property restitution in Poland as well as other countries, the House of Lords stated during session.

“We are in regular conversation with the Polish Government on the restitution of property seized during the Nazi occupation,” said Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development. “The UK post-Holocaust issues envoy, my noble friend Lord Pickles, is working with the US and other parties to call on Poland to pass legislation to provide restitution to provide restitution of, or compensation for, private property.”

In April, Poland’s parliament sent draft legislation aimed at blocking restitution of property lost or stolen during the Holocaust to a committee, even as the country’s ruling party voiced opposition to it.

The draft states: “It is forbidden to take any actions aimed at satisfying claims regarding heirless property, including negotiations, entering into settlements, recognising claims and actions relating to heirless property, consenting to mediation, directing parties to mediation or payment of cash benefits.”

It also states that Nazi Germany, not Poland, is responsible for what happened in Poland when it was occupied by Germany.

The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party said that it does not support the draft because it is “unnecessary,” but it was introduced to parliament because it garnered 200,000 signatures – well above the 100,000 needed to do so.

Poland is, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the only major European nation without laws regulating the restitution of private property – or possessions that belonged to individuals but ended up in the hands of the Polish state or other parties after the Holocaust.

Lord Ahmad intends to raise this issue during his first meeting with the Polish Foreign Minister.

“We applaud the British Government for its leadership on the issue of Holocaust-era property restitution and its commitment to continue to raise the issue with the Polish government,” said the chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), Gideon Taylor. “We thank Baroness Ruth Deech and Lord Pickles for their leadership on this issue and all the other British members of both Houses of Parliament, across party, for their unwavering support. Seventy-five years after the Holocaust, time is of the essence for survivors and their families, living in the UK and elsewhere, to receive a small measure of justice.”

“This is a powerful statement of Britain’s commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors and their families in their quest for justice,” said Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the country’s EJC affiliate. “The United Kingdom has long played a leadership role working with international partners to encourage the full implementation of the Terezin Declaration.  By asking the question about Holocaust-era property restitution in the House of Lords, Baroness Ruth Deech has helped raise awareness on this issue.”

The discussion was first brought up by Baroness Ruth Deech, who stated in the upper parliamentary house, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made toward fulfilling their commitments as a party to the Terezin Declaration of 30 June 2009; and what discussions they have had with the government of Poland about the restitution of property seized from Polish Jewish citizens during the period of Nazi occupation?”

She cited the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, a declaration which the United Kingdom and 46 other countries signed confirming the importance of the restitution of Holocaust-era property.

“[Shortly], we should see the publication of the United States Government’s response to Congress on the [The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today] JUST Act, focusing on compliance with the Terezin Declaration,” Lord Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues. “Will my noble friend pledge that we will work alongside our allies in the United Sates and Poland to see that justice is brought to the families of Holocaust victims whose property was confiscated by the Nazis?”

Lord Ahmad reaffirmed the position: “We continue to ensure that Poland stands up as a signatory of the Terezin Declaration. We will work with the US. Noble Lords have mentioned the JUST Act. We will look at its outcomes and work closely with our partners.”

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