President Andrzej Duda signed a bill on Saturday that severely restricts restitution and compensation for people whose properties were seized by Nazi occupiers, and expropriated during the country’s communist era.
The bill was passed by the Polish parliament on Thursday and will mostly affect Jews and their descendants who are the majority whose properties were confiscated during the Holocaust and subsequently expropriated by the country’s communist regime. It sets a limitation of action period of 30 years for administrative actions relating to the expropriation of properties. Consequently, the new legislation essentially locks out victims whose properties were confiscated during the communist era due to time expiration.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, it became possible for former property owners to claim restitution and some cases went through the courts successfully. However, unlike other EU members, Poland has not created a comprehensive law and fund to compensate people whose property was confiscated. In 2015, Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled that there should be definite timelines beyond which such administrative actions could no longer be challenged, prompting the introduction of the current legislation.
Duda signed the bill despite US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him not to do so on Wednesday. Duda’s decision to proceed to sign the bill days after the Polish parliament’s approval of a controversial media reform bill is expected to further increase tensions between Poland and the US. That bill, which is yet to be signed by the president, seeks to prevent US and other non-European owners from having controlling interests in Poland-based media companies as part of an effort to nationalize the media.
The signing of the bill has also evoked a backlash from Israel, which sternly opposed the legislation with Prime Minister Naftali Bennet terming it a “shameful decision and a disgraceful disregard for the memory of the Holocaust.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has criticized the legislation describing it as an “anti-Semitic and immoral law.” This development has also sparked a diplomatic row between Poland and Israel with the latter recalling its chargé d’affaires in Poland for an indefinite period of time.