Poland's president signed legislation Saturday that restricts the rights of former Polish property owners, including Holocaust survivors and their descendants, to regain property seized by the country’s communist regime.
The law, which was passed by parliament on Wednesday, is an amendment to Poland’s administrative law, which will prevent property ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years.
The legislation has angered Israel and the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on President Andrzej Duda this week to veto it, arguing that it would severely restrict the “process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era.”
Israel also opposed the law, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying it “damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims.”
Duda said in a statement that he analyzed the matter carefully and decided to sign the law to end legal uncertainty and fraud linked to properties whose ownership remains in doubt decades after World War II.
Duda said he strongly objected to anyone suggesting that the law was directed specifically against Jews who survived the Holocaust, which was carried out by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland and elsewhere.
“I unequivocally reject this rhetoric and say it with all my strength," Duda said. “Linking this act with the Holocaust raises my firm objection.”
Before World War II, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of nearly 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Germany’s occupation and their properties confiscated. Poland’s post-war communist authorities seized those properties, along with the property of many non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities.
When communism fell in 1989, it opened up the possibility for former owners to try to regain their lost properties. Some cases have made their way through the courts, but Poland has never passed a comprehensive law that would regulate restituting or compensating seized properties.
Some of those cases have been beset by fraud. Criminal groups have claimed to be rightful owners, obtaining valuable properties, and in some cases evicting tenants.
“I am convinced that with my signature the era of legal chaos ends — the era of re-privatization mafias, the uncertainty of millions of Poles and the lack of respect for the basic rights of citizens of our country. I believe in a state that protects its citizens against injustice,” Duda said.
The legislation was widely supported across the political spectrum in Poland.