שושנה חן
Shoshana Hen
Photo: Courtesy
Poles hold a May 2019 protest in Warsaw over a U.S. law allowing Jews to claim compensation for property lost in Poland during the Holocaust

Poland's crusade to whitewash Holocaust history

Opinion: The restitution bill promoted by Warsaw is just another step in the country's efforts to validate the murder of Jews and theft of their property carried out by their forebears; now Israel's new government must prove itself and stand up for what is right

Shoshana Hen |
Published: 07.04.21, 23:31
How much time passed from the moment my grandparents were forced out of their spacious, well-maintained apartment on the main street of Lodz, Poland into the impoverished, crowded Jewish ghetto until the Polish gatekeeper and his family took it over? One week? One day? One hour?
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  • When I visited that home several years ago, I could still see where their mezuzah had been nailed to the doorway. I could not muster the courage to go up and see who now resides there.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    People take part in far right protest against the U.S. Senate's decision to accept a law that allows Jewish people to claim compensation for property lost during WW2 in Warsaw, Poland, May 11, 2019
    People take part in far right protest against the U.S. Senate's decision to accept a law that allows Jewish people to claim compensation for property lost during WW2 in Warsaw, Poland, May 11, 2019
    Poles hold a May 2019 protest in Warsaw over a U.S. law allowing Jews to claim compensation for property lost in Poland during the Holocaust
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Do the current residents still have the candlesticks belonging to my grandmother who was murdered in the death camp at Treblinka? The same candlesticks that my mother recognized when she returned after the war and was threatened with death if she did not leave immediately.
    Three million Jews were murdered in Poland. Some were destitute, but a sizeable chunk were property owners. A third of Warsaw's real estate before the war was owned by Jews.
    These Jews were dispatched the ghettos and labor and death camps, and the Poles invaded their houses at a rate unseen in any other nation.
    Take for example Izrael Poznański Palace, belonging to the family dubbed by some as the "Rothschilds of Poland". The massive estate was taken over by Polish authorities and turned into the Lodz City Museum – after negotiations with the Jewish community of course.
    The few survivors who attempted to go back to their former homes to retrieve books and belongings or, God forbid, reclaim ownership, were forced away with threats.
    And let us not forget the communist regime that nationalized Jewish and other Polish property on a mass scale.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, says prayers before the monument to the heroes of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, Poland
    Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, says prayers before the monument to the heroes of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, Poland
    Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich prays at the monument to the heroes of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the Polish capital
    (Photo: AP)
    Reclaiming Jewish property in Warsaw, for example, has always been considered an almost impossible task, since that property was some of the first to be nationalized by the communist regime.
    This obscene and ludicrous reality have given rise to an entire industry of people looking for profit from the tragedy that befell the Jews of Europe.
    It is now the norm to make absurd demands of any Jews wishing to reclaim their family's property, even requiring a death certificate for those killed in the gas chambers.
    No other European nation makes as difficult as Poland to reclaim Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. Its liberation from communist rule did nothing to change the Kafkaesque level of paperwork and machinations needed just to get your foot in the door.
    Under the 2009 Theresien Proclamation, Poland committed to settle and regulate the issue of Jewish property, but words are cheap.
    Polish Holocaust survivors knew this many years ago when they said Poland would never atone for this plunder. They grew up in a nation where homegrown anti-Semitism was the standard and themselves witnessed the Polish vigilantes looking for Jews to turn in to the Nazis.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    Nazi troops capture members of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance,  1943
    Nazi troops capture members of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance,  1943
    Nazi troops capturing members of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance, May 1943
    (Photo: Archive)
    The restitution bill passed in Polish parliament last week will make it even more difficult for the few who are still trying to reclaim their family property.
    In recent years, Poland has embarked on a crusade to "whitewash" history, with Jewish property restitution being just another element of it. Warsaw is working to make itself a victim of Nazi occupation on the same level - if not more so - than the Jews.
    But this situation is not solely the fault of the Polish government.
    For years, Israel has done nothing to help in restitution efforts, both of public and private property.
    This current situation is a test not only for the Polish government, but for Jerusalem as well. Will it merely make do with condemnations and dressing down ambassadors or will it finally take this matter into its own hands and stop paying lip service to Warsaw?
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