Poland’s far-right rages against Jewish property claims
Poland is still grappling with the restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Communist authorities after the Second World War.
Activists have been wearing “Stop 447” stickers, in a protest against a US law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after the war.
The US Department of State is due to provide a non-binding report to Congress on property restitution, under the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act or Act 447.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a programme of property confiscation was enforced, targeting homes owned by Poland’s pre-war Jewish population of around 3 million, by far the largest in Europe. Around 90 per cent of Polish Jews were killed under Nazi rule.
After the October general election, legislation was proposed by far-right fringe parties to ban and, in some cases, criminalise the restitution of heirless property or compensation payments.
A coalition of far-right parties called the Confederation Liberty and Independence secured 6.8 per cent of the vote or 1.2 million votes in October.
Many properties became “heirless” because entire families were killed by the Nazi occupiers.
Dr Rafal Pankowski, an academic at Collegium Civitas, said that the Confederation made property restitution a central part of its election campaigns in the May European election and October.
The coalition has 11 parliamentarians in the Sejm, the Polish 460-member lower house.
“For the first time a political party took as their central platform an anti-Jewish campaign based on the imagined threat of Jewish claims against Poland,” said Pankowski.
“Antisemitic sentiment in Poland has existed for a long time, it never really went away. The far-right has activated and mobilised anti-Jewish sentiment and emotion over these issues, and it has become a pretext for invoking antisemitic stereotypes on a level we haven’t seen before.”
Gideon Taylor of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO) said far-right groups claim the value of heiress property is worth US$300 billion although there was no way of knowing any accurate figure.
Konstanty Gebert of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper blamed the Law and Justice (PiS) government for coarsening public debate in a way that had “legitimised extreme right-wing language” which was previously unacceptable in mainstream politics.
“The issues of property restitution and antisemitism are part of a larger battle which has been going in Poland since the 19th-century which sees two visions for the country,” Gebert told the media.
“Both visions are nationalistic because Polish independence is critical but the question is if the country wants an ethnic state of Polish people or a democratic state of all citizens,” he added.
Picture credit: LibreShot