is a stalwart American ally in Europe, a bulwark against an increasingly
belligerent Russia and, with the recent opening of a major new Warsaw museum,
is enjoying a flush of accolades for its belated embrace of its Jewish roots.
there’s a thorn in the bouquet: Poland is seen as having the world’s worst
record on the restitution of Jewish property lost during the Holocaust.
of Jewish groups seeking restitution say they will be making a renewed push to
put the restitution issue on Congress’ agenda and expect new pressure to
advance the issue. But ratcheting up the pressure on Poland poses an acute
dilemma for U.S. policymakers.
country’s outlier status — it is the sole European country that does not offer
private property restitution to survivors of the Holocaust or their heirs —
makes it an obvious target for Jewish activists. But Poland is also among the
most reliable U.S. allies and has close relations with Israel and American
Jewish groups. Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, will be featured
next month as a guest at the American Jewish Committee’s annual conclave.
as a result, few Jewish officials or members of Congress were willing to
discuss the issue on the record. Requests for comment from the Polish Foreign
Ministry and the Polish Embassy in Washington were not answered.
to pressure the Poles have remained largely in the realm of the rhetorical,
with no legislation proposed to address the problem as was done in the past on
other thorny issues of Holocaust restitution, like unpaid Holocaust-era
January, during confirmation hearings for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the co-chair of the congressional Committee on Security
and Cooperation in Europe, sought reassurances that Kerry would continue to
press Poland on the issue.
noted that Poland tells heirs seeking compensation to turn to the country’s
courts, an arduous and expensive process. It’s also a process likely to fail
because the government refuses to advance legislation that could underpin such
to the courts, “a process that presents insurmountable obstacles for most
victims of property theft and especially victims of the Holocaust, will
ultimately be futile for most claimants, and even for a tiny fraction of
successful claimants would be drawn out and needlessly burdensome,” Cardin
replied that he would “continue to encourage Poland to address property
claimants’ concerns quickly and fairly.”
recently, Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs,
brought up restitution in a March 17 security meeting with Polish officials.
Davidson, the State Department’s special envoy on the Holocaust, also is deeply
involved in advancing the restitution issue, Jewish organizational leaders
said. Davidson, who was traveling, could not be reached for comment.
officials also said that the Obama administration has been engaged on the
issue, with the president himself bringing it up in his meetings with Donald
Tusk, the Polish prime minister.
entreaties, however, have largely failed to move the Polish government.
November, Poland sent only a low-level diplomat to a conference in Prague on
restituting private property. The conference featured the presentation of a
paper by the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization
describing the treatment of the restitution issue by successive Polish
governments as a backward trajectory.
the government has issued numerous draft laws with respect to regulating
private property restitution, Poland has never enacted a single law pertaining
to immovable properties seized from private owners in the country during the
Holocaust era and its aftermath,” the paper said.
part, the problem is a result of vastly decreased U.S. leverage over Poland,
where the restitution of private property remains deeply unpopular because of
the potential for upheaval among the current residents of the properties. Restituting
communal property such as synagogues and graveyards is more straightforward.
nations that once cultivated U.S. Jews in their quest for membership in the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization are now members of the alliance. And they
have thriving economies, to boot.
a different world than it was 10 years ago for these countries,” one Jewish
official said. “Poland is becoming a wealthier country than it was 10 years
official of another Jewish group, speaking on background, said one avenue of
pressure could be to withhold Jewish support for Poland achieving visa waiver
status, a measure that would allow its citizens to enter the United States for
90 days without a prearranged visa.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s international Jewish
affairs director, said such a move would be counterproductive.
issues are not popular with the domestic constituencies in any of the Eastern
Europeans countries where we’ve pressed it,” Baker said. “The last thing we want
is to make it more unpopular.”