Poland, US differ in some points on property restitution - ministry

The Polish Foreign Ministry reacting to the US Department of State's report under the JUST Act, said that the opinion on the property restitution process in Poland differs in some points from Poland's assessment of the issue.

Poland, among other countries, has been listed in the State Department's annual Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act 447 report for not having yet enacted full legislation on domestic property restitution or Holocaust-related confiscation.

"It should be noted that the Just Act is not a law that establishes any new legal regime for claims, it is an internal US legislation. Neither the Terezin Declaration nor the JUST Act 447 are instruments that would constitute any legal basis for making property restitution claims in Poland," the ministry wrote in a statement sent to PAP.

"We welcome the fact that the US side indicated in the report that Poland undertook large scale steps to commemorate World War Two victims, including the victims of the Holocaust. (The report) emphasised the efforts of Polish authorities, including care over memorial sites and sites of former concentration and extermination camps (...)."

According to the ministry, the report also includes positive information on the "financial support for victims of repression, including victims of the Holocaust, regardless of their place of residence, and about the activities undertaken by the Polish authorities to provide education about the Holocaust and its victims."

The ministry stressed that Poland is one of only a few countries in the world where "teaching about the Holocaust is compulsory at all stages of education." "We are convinced that this information, due to the fact that it has been included in the official US report, will reach the media and public opinion in the US on a wider scale," added the ministry.

"At the same time, we would like to point out that the opinion of the State Department regarding the property restitution process in Poland differs in some points from our assessment of this problem," the ministry wrote.

It stressed that Poland "provides everyone equal terms, regardless of citizenship or origin, for the possibility of claiming the right to lost property." "Polish law allows former owners or their legal successors to claim rights to real estate through administrative and court proceedings. Any entitled person can use these procedures," the ministry pointed out.

However, the ministry did indicate in the statement that it was true that Poland had not adopted any one, overall, legal regulation on property restitution, noting that international law did not establish universal standards or procedures in this respect, nor did it oblige states to adopt specific legislation.

The ministry added that "it is up to states' sovereign decision regarding which measures will be applied to satisfy property claims." "At the same time, we are aware that civil or administrative proceedings are time-consuming. They are complicated, often due to shortages in documentation and the significant lapse of time (...). Nevertheless, it should be stressed that the legal instruments and procedures in force really enable every entitled person to claim their rights to lost property."

Referring to the issue of heirless property, the ministry noted that the Polish law provides that "if the owner dies without heirs, the inheritance is taken over by the commune of the person's last residence or the State Treasury." "Solutions of this type are in force in other European countries, as well as in the US and Israel."