US State Dep Holocaust Envoy concerned over property restitution rights in Poland

The US State Department Holocaust envoy, Cherrie Daniels, has stated that she believes the passage of an amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedure (KPA) considered by the Polish Parliament would cause "irreparable harm to both Jews and non-Jews" on the issue of property restitution.

"This bill would cause irreparable harm to both Jews and non-Jews by virtually extinguishing claims for restitution and compensation for property taken during the Holocaust that was later nationalised during the period of Communist rule," - Daniels said at a virtual conference organised by the World Jewish Property Restitution Organization (WJRO).

The conference was held on the eve of the anniversary of the release of a State Department report commissioned by the U.S. Congress under the JUST Act on the problems of property restitution. Daniels noted that of the six countries listed in the report, Poland is the only one with a setback on the issue.

"We are disappointed that the Polish government and opposition seem too often to deliberately equate property restitution or compensation with war reparations," - Daniels said. At a minimum, she added, what U.S. authorities want are amendments to allow for the termination of pending proceedings.

Such an amendment was added to the bill last week by the opposition-controlled Polish Senate.

The statement of Daniels, who visited Poland at the beginning of July, is another signal from the U.S. authorities concerning the amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure. Earlier, the bill was criticised by the spokesman of the US Department of Diplomacy Ned Price, and in a bipartisan letter sent to Poland’s president Andrzej Duda by 12 US Senators. The senators asked the Polish president to veto the bill once it arrives at his desk unless there are substantial changes made to its current form.

The amendment to KPA would change the provisions which require that an administrative decision be deemed invalid due to "a flagrant violation of law". - regardless of how long ago it was issued.

The amendment would introduce a limit on 30 years, after which it will be impossible to challenge the issuance of an administrative decision, whether deemed to be in “flagrant violation of the law or not”.

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously defended the amendment by stating that the introduction of time limits will lead to the elimination of abuses and irregularities that took place on a large scale in re-privatisation processes after which many tenants were forcefully evicted from homes they had been living in for decades. The Ministry has also pointed out that the amendment does not restrict the possibility of bringing civil actions for compensation, regardless of the nationality or origin of the claimant.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paweł Jabłoński, has stated that in some cases the current KPA law “led to the unauthorised transfer of very large assets to unauthorised people”.

The minister stated that such a situation could not be allowed to continue, adding “these people often used this legal status to enrich themselves at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust and their inheritors”.