Ronald Lauder. 'Appalled' by Polish government's refusal Photo: AP
Jews urge east Europe to return seized assets
Despite progress made since fall of Communism, 'there remains an urgent need to help Holocaust victims and their heirs whose property claims remain unsatisfied,' World Jewish Restitution Organization Ronald Lauder says in Prague
VIDEO - Jewish groups on Wednesday urged ex-communist European states to return, or provide compensation for, assets seized from Holocaust victims estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Despite progress made since the fall of Communism, "there remains an urgent need to help... Holocaust victims and their heirs whose property claims remain unsatisfied," Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), said in Prague.
He singled out Latvia, Poland and Romania, as foot draggers and said the WJRO – which includes several Jewish groups – was "appalled that the government in Warsaw now adamantly refuses to offer any legislative gestures to address languishing private property claims."
In March 2011, Poland suspended work on compensation legislation for property seized by Nazi Germany and the post-war Polish communists, intended to apply to all victims of expropriation, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
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Warsaw argued the law would swell the nation's debt to the point where it would breach a European Union debt ceiling.
Lauder dismissed the argument at the time.
On Wednesday, he also asked Latvia to adopt laws enabling the return of seized Jewish assets and slammed Romania as having "failed to address the bureaucratic delays that have stalled the restitution and compensation process."
The WJRO conference which ended Wednesday was co-organised by the European Shoah Legacy Institute and the Czech foreign ministry as a follow-up to the Terezin declaration signed by 46 countries in the Czech Republic in 2009.
The signatories of the declaration named after a Czech wartime ghetto urged the restitution of Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis during World War II and social aid for impoverished Holocaust survivors.
Poland has struggled to produce blanket rules on property seized from Jews and non-Jews alike during the World War II Nazi occupation, nationalised by the post-war communist regime, and not returned since Poland became a democracy in 1989.
Owners and their heirs have meanwhile had to pursue claims case-by-case in the courts.
Poland's property-owners' association estimates that unreturned property is worth some 65-70 billion zlotys ($22-24 billion).
Jewish claims make up some 17% of all claims, according to the association, which formed a united front with Jewish groups to push for compensation.