By Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post—
In the sweep of history, 76 years is a blip on the screen, a relatively brief stretch of time too short to excuse a willful and utter disregard for the past.
It is precisely this basic truth that makes Poland’s latest assault on the legacy of the Holocaust so thoroughly contemptible.
Last week, the lower house of the Polish parliament, known as the Sejm, passed a bill that would effectively erase any claims to property restitution connected with the murder of six million Jews.
On the surface, the legislation appears rather banal, as it makes no explicit mention of Jews or the genocide committed against them, much of which took place on Polish soil.
Instead, using the dry and uninspired language preferred by many legislatures around the world, the law would apply a 30-year statute of limitations to claims on property that was confiscated from its original owners by the post-war Communist regime.
An uninformed observer could be forgiven for thinking the law merely aims to impose a reasonable time limit or cap of some sort to bring closure to the issue.
But couching the law in humdrum legalese does not conceal its sinister intent, which is to entrench the massive theft of Jewish-owned property that was carried out in Poland.
In effect, the bill would allow those who stole Jewish property from Holocaust victims to rest easily in the knowledge that they and their heirs can enjoy the fruits of their looting.
As Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich noted, “This is clearly a flawed law” that should be corrected.
“One could make the argument that someone living in a property for 30 years has a right to feel that they are not going to be thrown out of their house,” he told the Magazine. “On the other hand, the government has still done something wrong and has a responsibility to correct that.”
Compensation from the Polish government, argues Rabbi Schudrich, is “the most reasonable, honest, fair and moral solution.”
IT IS A shame that Poland’s leaders did not bother to consider a solution along the lines proposed by the rabbi. A shame, but hardly a surprise.
After all, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has repeatedly and forecefully spoken out against restoring stolen Jewish property to its rightful owners.
Two years ago, during a campaign stop in the city of Lodz, Morawiecki brazenly declared that he “would not consent” to pay Holocaust restitution claims, bizarrely asserting that to do so “would also be a posthumous victory for Hitler.”
Last week, after the passage of the controversial bill, Morawiecki doubled down on his position, defiantly declaring, “As long as I am the prime minister, Poland will surely not pay for the German crimes. Not a zloty, not a euro, not a dollar.”
His remarks are so disingenuous and deceptive that one cannot help but paraphrase the comment often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularized by Mark Twain: “We can now say that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and Polish lies.”
Morawiecki knows all too well that when a Polish Jewish family seeks to reclaim property on Polish soil that was confiscated by the Polish government, it is not a matter of asking Poland to pay for German crimes. It is about paying for Polish crimes, such as the unconscionable seizure of assets from the primary victims of the Holocaust.
To portray it in any other way is an offense to morality, truth and common sense.
Indeed, Poland is virtually the only country in the region that has failed to pass a compensation law aimed at righting the historical wrongs that were committed against Jewish property owners. This, despite the fact that approximately half of the six million victims who were murdered were Polish Jews, and Poland was home to half a dozen Nazi death camps.
The country’s unwillingness to come up with a creative and fair solution to the question of Jewish property restitution raises serious questions about whether Poland has truly confronted its own past.
It is not too late for the Polish government to reverse course. Although last week’s scandalous bill was passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament, it must still be approved by the Polish Senate in order to become law.
Whether or not Poland will do the right thing and amend the law is anyone’s guess. But of one thing we can all be certain: The Polish insistence on denying justice to the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants is a stain on the country that will neither be forgiven nor forgotten.