The Polish Law, which essentially prevents Jews from getting back property that was stolen from their families during the Holocaust and after the war by the Communist regime in Poland, was passed in the Polish Senate on Friday.
The law will make it nearly impossible to appeal decisions made on property that was stolen more than 30 years ago.
However, the law passed on Friday includes two amendments that were not part of the original draft bill.
First, an extension of three months was approved for submitting requests before the law comes into effect. Second, the new law will not apply to existing claims and ongoing cases.
Nonetheless, “the law will strongly harm [Israel’s] relations with Poland,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid following the announcement. “Poland knows very well what is the right and decent thing to do.”
“Israel is deeply concerned about the Polish legislation on the issue of restitution rights for the victims of the Holocaust. Every step in the legislative process is a worrying development,” Lapid tweeted Friday afternoon.
“We will not backtrack on our commitment to the dignity of Holocaust victims, on maintaining their rights and preserving their memory,” he added.
Lapid’s comments were reiterated by Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, who said on Friday evening that “the Polish parliament’s insistence on advancing the bill…may cause real harm to relations between the countries,” adding that “history cannot be changed.”
The amendments did not seem to satisfy the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) either, which released a statement condemning the controversial law.
“Today’s vote in the Polish Senate to adopt the bill with amendments does not bring justice for claimants. While pending cases will no longer be extinguished, successful claimants will only be able to obtain compensation for property that was wrongfully confiscated by the Communist regime,” WJRO operations chair Gideon Taylor said in a statement.
“The Senate has completely foreclosed the possibility for rightful owners – many of whom have had cases pending for years – to recover their property,” Taylor added.
Taylor also argued that the property stolen from Jews during and after World War II still benefits Poland even today.
“It is true that Poland suffered greatly under Nazi occupation and was a victim of terrible atrocities. But we are speaking here about property that was taken by Poland after the war, and which remains in and benefits Poland to this day,” he wrote.
The bill will now be returned to the Polish parliament’s lower house – the Sejm – for a final vote approving the amendments added by the Senate before being signed by President Andrzej Duda.
WJRO has urged the Sejm “to reconsider its previous vote and this time to reject the bill in its entirety” calling on Poland “to once and for all settle the issue of private property by adopting comprehensive restitution legislation.”
European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor also slammed the passing of the bill.
“This is not just another law, it is legalized theft, and the language is written in such a way that it implicitly seeks to single out Jews as undeserving of retrieving what was stolen from them,” Kantor said in a statement. “It is not privileging Jews as some claim in Poland, it is disenfranchising them, creating a higher bar than for all others.
“This law will also further highlight Poland’s unique position as the only country in the region which makes Holocaust restitution impossible, and runs counter to its international commitments,” he said. “It is outrageous that someone who survived the Holocaust, who will be in their later years, will still be deprived justice by this cruel, illegitimate and discriminatory law.”