Deputy PM Gowin: Compromise needed in Polish-Jewish dialogue

Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin met in Washington on Friday with the leaders of major Jewish organisations. Noting differences in Polish and Jewish attitudes, he assessed that a dialogue requiring mutual compromise is essential.

Gowin headed the Polish government's delegation during last week's visit to the US, which included the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology Jadwiga Emilewicz and Minister of Health Lukasz Szumowski. 

Following the meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in Washington, the deputy PM said that the discussion focused on problems that have recently divided Poles and Jews. 

"On the one hand, my partners in the talks emphasised the reservations of the Jewish community as regards the amended act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) which criminalises statements that falsely attribute Nazi Germany's crimes to the Polish state or nation", Gowin pointed out. "On the other hand, I presented the reasons for which not only our government, but no Polish government can accept legal solutions regarding the restitution claims of Holocaust survivors and their heirs," he explained.

Last Tuesday, the US Congress unanimously approved the JUST Act (Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act of 2017), also known as bill S. 447, passed by the US Senate in December 2017.

According to the deputy prime minister, this is an important matter for Poles. The act imposes on the US Department of State the duty to monitor in forty-several countries of the world the situation regarding property that once belonged to Jewish owners, property to which there are no heirs.

As Gowin reported, representatives of Jewish organisations emphasised that they did not seek the full return of property, but rather symbolic gestures, like transferring certain sums of money to maintaining the Jewish heritage in Poland.

"I, in turn, pointed out that the Polish state, after regaining independence in 1989, has done a lot to preserve the memory and material legacy of Polish Jews so ruthlessly murdered by the Germans during the Holocaust. We agreed that further discussions are needed on this subject, which will determine exactly what the 'symbolic gestures' mean, the deputy prime minister said.

On the last day of the US visit, he met with leaders of B'nai B'rith, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jewish Committee, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry and the World Jewish Restitution Organisation. They are groups which are actively involved in Polish-Jewish issues, as well as Polish-American-Jewish issues.

The Washington talks also concerned the IPN Act. The Jewish partners reiterated the Jewish community's objections to the document. In their opinion, the law may limit freedom of speech, the freedom of scientific research, and the right of Holocaust survivors to testify about those times.

"On the one hand, I presented the arguments of the Polish government that such an interpretation of the act is completely unfounded. On the other hand, I am aware that in this discussion, we Poles must be particularly sensitive to the Jewish point of view," Gowin pointed out.

Summing up the results of the talks with representatives of Jewish organisations in the USA, Gowin said on Saturday he believes "that we gotten out of a certain rut in which Polish-Jewish relations were stuck in."

"Certainly, further talks are needed", he argued. "But the atmosphere of these talks, which I held, was very positive," Gowin stressed.