More than a half century after the most tragic chapter in Jewish history, the issue of property restitution has not lost its potent emotional charge for a community still traumatized by the Holocaust.
In Poland, ongoing efforts to win restitution for Jewish property stolen during the Nazi occupation have collided with questions of who is responsible after all these decades, in a country that was itself a victim of Nazi aggression, albeit with serious episodes of anti-Semitic violence even after the war ended. While that debate is legitimate, we believe that the restitution and compensation are moral necessities.
What is not legitimate is a far-right nationalist movement that is effectively using the restitution issue to stoke the anti-Semitism at its ugly core. And Polish government officials, opposing U.S. pressure on Warsaw to do the right thing, have contributed to the extremist surge with intemperate rhetoric opposing the restitution push.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki this week insisted that since Poland, too, was a victim of Nazi aggression, it had no responsibility to pay restitution, and that providing compensation would be “a posthumous victory for Hitler, which is why we will never allow it.”
Poland alone among European Union nations has not enacted laws requiring restitution or compensation for property stolen by the Nazis. Last week demonstrators, many hurling ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic slogans, marched to the U.S. embassy in Warsaw to protest Washington’s demand for restitution and compensation. Earlier this month, Polish nationalists held a rally in Warsaw that the Times of Israel cited as “one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times.”
It is critical that mainstream political figures do more to tamp down their own rhetoric and seek a fair and quick solution to the restitution issue. With the survivor population nearing the vanishing point and Europe awash in resurgent anti-Semitism, time is running out.