Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

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Sid Guttridge
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Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 14 Aug 2021 06:33

Poland's Parliament has just passed a law prohibiting the restitution of property seized by the Communist regime. Hereafter, claims have to be made within 30 years, which is the length of time since the fall of the communist regime.

However, this also has implications for two groups of Polish WWII survivors - those who went into exile after 1939 and Jewish survivors of the extermination camps, as it catches them as well. I can see the rationale for some sort of statute of limitations, but it seems particularly insensitive while some of these survivors are still alive. On the other hand, it seems particularly beneficial to the Polish state and presumably some oligarchs.

There is precedent in France. A similar Napoleonic-era law put a time limitation on the restitution of property - apparently introduced to protect property seized by Bonaparte's supporters. This allowed them to retain assets seized off the Ancien Regime. Nearly two hundred years later this led to the British actor Peter Ustinov being unable to reclaim a vintage car that had been stolen from him some 30 years earlier.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by VanillaNuns » 15 Aug 2021 09:15

Also worth noting the bill was passed with bipartisan support from Poland's opposition parties.

Claims from Israel that it was rammed through by an authoritarian and potentially antisemitic government fall rather flat when you consider this.

This bill was long overdue and should have been passed 20 or 30 years ago. I only hope that all countries will now have the courage to pass similar legislation.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by wm » 15 Aug 2021 09:29

Exactly nor the pseudo-socialists, nor the woke liberals voted against the law and against the "regime."
That's unbelievable considering that both sides see in each other as the embodiment of evil, a bunch of little Hitlers.
It's like in the US only worse.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 15 Aug 2021 10:41

Hi vanillanuns,

You post, "I only hope that all countries will now have the courage to pass similar legislation."

Why? It effectively legalizes theft after thirty years.

I can understand a cut off after, say, 100 years, to stop endless litigation from generation unto generation by people not originally direct victims of these events against people not party to the original events. That is pragmatic.

However, to allow one person to retain something taken from another in the latter's lifetime (in this case barely a third of a lifetime) seems inherently wrong. In effect, the short time frame allows the taker to enjoy the proceeds in their own lifetime at the expense of the victim in their own lifetime. How is this right without compensation?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by wm » 15 Aug 2021 11:58

It wasn't taken it was nationalized, i.e., the communists took from the rich and gave to the poor.
Same people consider nationalization wrong on moral grounds but nationalization is legal.

btw there are no oligarchs in Poland and there were no in pre-war Poland. Both Polands were/are ruled by politicians.
But there were oligarchs in the 19th century; Szmul Zbytkower [Zbytkower - the one who spends lawishly] and his son Ber Sonnenberg - both Hasidic Jews.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 16 Aug 2021 22:42

Hi wm,

Nationalization without compensation is simply "taking".

Certainly Poland has been slower than its former Comecon partners to develop oligarchs, but Daniel Obajtek is shaping up promisingly.

How many oligarchs in the 19th century in Poland were not Hasidic Jews and why is their faith relevant here?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by gebhk » 17 Aug 2021 12:02

I can understand a cut off after, say, 100 years, to stop endless litigation from generation unto generation by people not originally direct victims of these events against people not party to the original events. That is pragmatic.
Hi Sid

In the UK, as I understand it, there is a deadline of 30 years for entitled relatives to lay claim to their share of bona vacantia property whose previous owners died pre 1997. For deaths after 1997 the deadline is 12 years from the date the property was administered by the Treasury Solicitor - ie, in practice, anywhere between 12-14 years from the death.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 17 Aug 2021 15:15

Hi gebhk,

That may or may not be so, but it is not directly analogous to the Polish situation. In the Polish case the victims deprived of the property may still be alive for half a century or more beyond thirty years.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by gebhk » 17 Aug 2021 16:09

Hi Sid

The situation is entirely analogous. It's not how long the person physically dispossessed is alive that is relevant, but the time the estate has the opportunity to claim. If I understand WM correctly, those dispossessed during the war who left the country have had, to date, 76 years to claim while those who remained and/or been dispossessed during the communist era had 30-odd since the fall of communism.

I am curious what oligarchs have to do with any of it?

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 17 Aug 2021 17:23

Hi gebhk,

The situations are very different. In the British case we are talking about the naturally deceased, not the questionably dispossessed.

In what kind of society can it be right that property you or I might have worked to earn at the age of 25 can be enjoyed legally by someone else who may have stolen it from us now that we are 55? As I say above, I can see the rationale of a cut off point after the last direct victim is likely to be dead, but having their noses rubbed in it while they may still be alive seems deeply offensive, not to say wrong.

You post, "If I understand WM correctly, those dispossessed during the war who left the country have had, to date, 76 years to claim while those who remained and/or been dispossessed during the communist era had 30-odd since the fall of communism." Given the nature of the Communist regime, is it not the case that in practice both groups have had only 30 years?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by gebhk » 17 Aug 2021 23:13

Hi Sid

Let's be serious for a moment. We are not talking about someone making off with a house in the dead of night and living it up in it while the previous owner is standing mournfully at the gate. We are talking about a range of properties, many vacant, that were taken by the government (long gone) and redistributed/repurposed in various ways while their previous owners (also mainly long gone) went to live elsewhere. Even if WM is wrong and your guess is right, they or their descendants have had 30 years to make a claim after the takers were swept away. They can't have been having that much discomfort from the nose rubbing if they chose not to make that claim in that time.

I would point out that all governments under the sun feel the right to take away their citizens' property as they see fit to suit their policies - its just the percentage that varies!

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by wm » 17 Aug 2021 23:25

Sid Guttridge wrote:
16 Aug 2021 22:42
Nationalization without compenshation is simply "taking".
The only relevant question is was the nationalization legal, and the answer is yes.

It was reasonable and moral that in a country where millions were homeless and entire cities razed to the ground, the haves sacrificed their wealth for the benefit of the have-nots and the nation.
It wasn't about a poor shoemaker and his hole in the wall; it was about landlords and tenement buildings worth tens of millions of dollars, if not more.

Btw Obajtek isn't an oligarch by any stretch of the imagination; he's a swamp creature nominated to a lucrative job and could be removed on a whim by his party.
As he is unable to deliver votes, his political value and influence are minimal.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Aug 2021 10:52

Hi gebhk,

I very much welcome your desire to be serious, even if only "for a moment"!

I see no problem with "a range of properties, many vacant, that were taken by the government (long gone)" being "redistributed/repurposed in various ways" provided due compensation is paid to the original owners. (For example, this is what happened with land requisitioned during WWII by the British Government - i.e. much of the Bovington tank gunnery ranges). Pending restitution or compensation, I see no problem with the state making practical use of such property.

I would suggest that "their previous owners went to live elsewhere" is to grossly misrepresent the true situation. The previous owners concerned were either Poles who were displaced by or fled from German or Soviet occupation, or were Jewish survivors of the so-called "Holocaust". According to the BBC, the former are more numerous. I am not too worried about the situations of distant descendants who never enjoyed possession of these properties in the first place, but it seems inherently wrong that owners who had enjoyed possession of this property, and were dispossessed of it through no fault of their own, should not be able to enjoy its return while still alive.

I know an English-born Polish countess in her 90s in an old people's home near where I live. She never even saw her husband's properties and I see no good reason why she should enjoy them now. Neither does she. However, his case is different as he had been in possession of the properties in 1939, when he escaped the Germans and Soviets alike into Romania. The Count died about 15 years ago and, according to her, he found the post-Communist authorities obstructive at every turn when he tried to get access to any of them. (This seems to have been the experience of Jewish claimants as well).

You post, "Even if WM is wrong and your guess is right, they or their descendants have had 30 years to make a claim after the takers were swept away." The problem is that this doesn't simply apply to Nazi- and Communist-era cases, but to any and all future cases. It is not merely tidying up historic instances, but hangs over all future possession of property in Poland. The similar French law introduced after Napoleon's fall is till in force today. Above I gave an example from only a couple of decades ago where a car owner was unable to reclaim his stolen classic car because of this.

You post, "I would point out that all governments under the sun feel the right to take away their citizens' property as they see fit to suit their policies....." This is true. However, what differentiates them is not "just the percentage that varies". This percentage varies according to how draconian the standards they use for such expropriations are.

This law affects not just patriotic Poles forced into foreign exile, or the handful of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, but hangs over all future property transactions in Poland. No Pole can now be sure of reclaiming property stolen from him only three decades ago.

This law looks like an ongoing amnesty for theft, because its statute of limitations is far too short.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Poland's new property restitution law has implications for WWII survivors.

Post by wm » 23 Aug 2021 14:37

I'm afraid not that many patriotic (usually young) Poles owned tenement buildings.

This is what they are afraid of, and this is what actually happened during the previous restitution: mass corruption, crime, even organized crime:
Still, the most surprising fact is that there are scarcely any true Jews in this hermetic environment of the heads of Jewish organizations. Most of them are converts, or people who converted to Judaism. The most fervent ones even changed their names to Orthodox-sounding ones. For example, Orthodox Simcha Keller, who sits on the board of ZGWZ and at the same time is chairman of the Jewish community in Lodz, is in fact Jerzy Skowroński. Or the head of the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, Isroel Szpilman, is actually Przemysław Szyszka.

Journalists from the Jewish Times described this phenomenon most pointedly: "When the process of the restitution of Jewish property was started in 1997, random people created groups and called them Jewish communities just to be able to lay claims to Jewish property."

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