Poland backs property restitution reforms criticized by Israel

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland on Friday defended planned changes to its property restitution rules, after Israel said the reforms are “immoral” and will prevent Jews from claiming compensation or property seized during the ‘Holocaust and the Communist Age.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said the reforms would not prevent claims in the courts.

They “do not in any way limit the possibility of bringing civil proceedings to seek damages, regardless of the nationality or origin of the plaintiff,” the ministry said.

The Israeli embassy had accused that the changes underway in parliament “would make it impossible” to return seized Jewish property. He said they would also prevent Holocaust survivors and their heirs from seeking compensation. Poland was home to a large Jewish community for many centuries, until the German invasion of the Nazis in World War II.

“This immoral law will have a serious impact on relations between our countries,” the embassy said on Twitter.

The Polish Foreign Ministry replied that these comments “are indicative of a lack of knowledge of Polish facts and law”.

The changes were ordered in 2015 by Poland’s highest constitutional court and set a 30-year limitation period for appeals against administrative decisions made in gross violation of the law. They aim to put an end to fraud and irregularities in the restitution of property in Warsaw, Krakow and other cities and towns.

In a vote Thursday night, Polish lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the changes, which still need to be approved by the Senate and President Andrzej Duda before they can become law.

Before World War II, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, with some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust during the occupation of Nazi Germany and their property was confiscated. The post-war Communist authorities seized the property, as well as the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities.

A 2001 bill providing for compensation for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by then President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who said it violated principles of social equality and would harm to the economic development of Poland. He also said individual claims should be taken to court.

Poland is the only European country that has not offered any form of compensation for private property, including Jewish property, seized by the state in its recent history.

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