Property restitution in Poland

After World War II and coming to power of the communist government in Poland, large scale nationalization occurred. Following the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, some of the formerly nationalized property have been subject to reprivatisation and restored to previous owners, their heirs or other claimants.

The issue of restitution has become contentious in Israel-Poland relations. It has also been criticized in Poland for significant fraud and corruption.


During World War II, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Poland. They both, in their respective area of occupation, confiscated significant amounts of property. After the Polish Communist government came to power in 1944, it also adopted a policy of large scale nationalization of property in what constituted Poland after the War. The property that had previously been confiscated by Nazi Germany was now classified as "former German" or "abandoned" property.[1][2]

A restitution law "On Abandoned Real Estates" of May 6, 1945 allowed property owners who had been dispossessed, or their relatives and heirs, whether residing in Poland or outside the country, to reclaim privately owned property under a simplified inheritance procedure. The law remained in effect until the end of 1948. An expedited court process with minimal costs was put in place to handle claims. Applications had to be examined within 21 days, and many claims were processed the day they were filed. The Communist government enacted legislation on "abandoned property", placing severe limitations on inheritance not present in pre-war inheritance law which allowed inheritance by second-degree relatives, limiting restitution to the original owners or direct heirs. The unprecedented rate of extermination of Polish Jews in conjunction with the fact that only Jewish property was officially confiscated by the Nazis suggests "abandoned property" was equivalent to "Jewish property". Communist officials did not conceal this, the formulators of the law argued that it was necessary to prevent wealth concentration in the hands of "unproductive and parasite factors".[3] The initial 1945 decrees were superseded by a 1946 law,[4] with a claims deadline of 31 December 1947 (later extended to 31 December 1948) after which property devolved to the Polish state.[5] Even if Jews regained de jure control, when it was occupied by Poles additional lengthy proceedings were required.[6] The majority of Jewish claimants could not afford the restitution process due to the filing costs, legal fees, and inheritance tax, although all claimants could apply to have these fees waived, or could receive support from state organizations established for that purpose.[7]

Vast[citation needed] quantities of Jewish property were unclaimed due to some Jews being murdered when they sought restitution of family property and due to Jews fleeing postwar Poland. The murders, variously estimated, intimidated Jews from filing claims. Unclaimed Jewish property devolved to the Polish state on 31 December 1948, but many Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union were only repatriated after this date. Polish legislation in 1947 severely restricted intestate succession, limiting inheritance by distant family members.[8] Jews who returned to Poland from the Soviet Union and settled in the territories Poland acquired from Germany were entitled to material compensation on equal footing with ethnic Poles who were displaced from Eastern Poland.[9]

After the fall of Communism in 1989, the issue of restitution of property that had been confiscated during the War and nationalised after the War resurfaced, with a number of parties, both domestic (such as the Roman Catholic Church in Poland) and international (such as the Jewish diaspora), claiming that they were unfairly treated in the past and insisting that the issue be revisited.[10][11][12][13][14]

Communal claims

In 1989, the Polish government passed laws setting out the restitution procedure for religious organizations. The Commission for the Catholic Church, the first such commission, began operations in 1989,[15] and was active until 2011. It received 3,063 requests, out of which over 2,000 were reviewed positively, resulting in restitution of the property to the claimants.[16][17][18] Property commissions for other denominations were created over the next few years. The one for the Evangelical Church was established in 1994, and the ones for the Polish Orthodox Church, and the Jewish Qahal in Poland (represented later by the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland) were created in 1997.[15][19][20][21][22][23][16][17]

According to attorney Stephen Denburg, the Jewish communities were not treated fairly.[24]: 252  Four years later, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) signed an agreement with the Polish government which gave that organization the right to negotiate for repatriation of Jewish property.[24]: 253  In 1997 Polish parliament passed a law on restitution of Jewish communal property, but not on property owned by private individuals.[25]: 9 [24]: 254 

Private claims

Poland entered into twelve Indemnity Treaties [pl] between 1948 and 1971, under which Poland paid a specific lump sum to the other states, and Poland and its citizens and legal persons were released from further liability for damages, with compensation obligations being transferred to the other states.[26] No indemnity treaty has been entered into with Israel.

One of those treaties was with the United States, signed on 16 July 1960, that allowed all compensation claims of US citizens to be directed to and dealt with by the US government. Under the treaty, Poland paid to US authorities $40 million (in 1960 values) over 20 years, in full settlement of the claims of US nationals for claims covered by the agreement. In total, 10,169 claims were lodged in the US, with over 5,022 awards made. The awards amounted to $100,737,681.63 principal, and $51,051,825.01 interest.[27][28][29]


Property restitution continues to be contentious. The Communist regime in Poland entered into some settlements with international parties, but little compensation has been given to the Polish citizens who remained in Poland.[30] Restoration of property to the Roman Catholic Church, argued to be the biggest beneficiary, has been criticized as unduly favoring that institution.[13] Efforts to restore Jewish property in Eastern Europe, including Poland (where estimates of the value of seized Jewish private property[25]: 51  range up to at least $2–3 billion according to some estimates.[25]: 57 ), often caused a resurgence of antisemitism.[25]: 9–10 [31][32] A number of restitution cases has been plagued by corruption and fraud (see reprivatisation fraud in Warsaw), as well as controversial treatment of low-income tenants, many of whom were suddenly evicted once properties changed hands.[11][10][33] In 2011 a Polish tenant right activist, Jolanta Brzeska [pl], died in suspicious circumstances, sparking another controversy.[10][34]

In 2015, the U.S. State Department Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues described the legal situation in Poland, regarding the restitution of private property, as "especially cumbersome, challenging, time consuming and expensive for claimants outside of Poland."[35]: 279  As of 2018, Poland was the last of the European Union and Eastern European post-communist states not to enact a comprehensive restitution bill.[35]: 277 

In 2021, Poland enacted a law setting a 30-year time limit on appealing administrative decisions made by special administrative bodies, effectively meaning that owners of property seized in the communist era can no longer receive compensation. The law sparked a diplomatic incident with Israel.[36][12][37] Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described it as “immoral and a disgrace.” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said “I can only say that as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will not pay for German crimes: Neither zloty, nor euro, nor dollar.”[38] After Poland's President Andrzej Duda signed the law on 14 August, Israel recalled its envoy from Poland and told the Polish ambassador not to return.[39][40] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had also spoken out against the law, and urged Poland “to develop a clear, efficient and effective legal procedure to resolve confiscated property claims and provide some measure of justice for victims. In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property was unjustly taken, including that of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.”[41]

See also


  1. ^ Stola, Dariusz (2008). "The Polish debate on the holocaust and the restitution of property". In Martin Dean; Constantin Goschler; Philipp Ther (eds.). Robbery and restitution: the conflict over Jewish property in Europe. Berghahn Books. pp. 240–255. ISBN 978-0-85745-564-2. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  2. ^ MIECZKOWSKI, BOGDAN (1980). "Review of Poland's Postwar Recovery: Economic Reconstruction, Nationalization, and Agrarian Reform in Poland after World War II". The Polish Review. 25 (2): 121–123. ISSN 0032-2970. JSTOR 25777763.
  3. ^ Weizman, Yechiel. "Unsettled possession: the question of ownership of Jewish sites in Poland after the Holocaust from a local perspective." Jewish Culture and History 18.1 (2017): 34-53.
  4. ^ Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944–48, Cambridge University Press, Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, page 72
  5. ^ The Plunder of Jewish Property during the Holocaust, Palgrave, page 101
  6. ^ Searching for Justice After the Holocaust: Fulfilling the Terezin Declaration and Immovable Property Restitution, Oxford University Press, page 325
  7. ^ false Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944–48, Cambridge University Press, Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, page 82
  8. ^ The Plunder of Jewish Property during the Holocaust: Confronting European History, Palgrave, Laurence Weinbaum, pages 100-1
  9. ^ Robbery and Restitution: The Conflict Over Jewish Property in Europe, Berghan Books in association with United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Dariusz Stola, pages 244-248
  10. ^ a b c Davies, Christian (2017-12-18). "'They stole the soul of the city': how Warsaw's reprivatisation is causing chaos". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  11. ^ a b "Poland's reclaimed properties create scars across Warsaw". Financial Times. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  12. ^ a b "Polish law on property stolen by Nazis angers Israel". BBC News. 2021-08-14. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  13. ^ a b Przeciszewski, Marcin (2010). "Komisja Majątkowa: fakty i mity". Więź (in Polish). LIII (625+626): 68–80. ISSN 0511-9405.
  14. ^ Michael J. Bazyler; Kathryn Lee Boyd; Kristen L. Nelson (2019). Searching for Justice After the Holocaust: Fulfilling the Terezin Declaration and Immovable Property Restitution. Oxford University Press. pp. 327–328. ISBN 978-0-19-092306-8.
  15. ^ a b Dudra, Stefan (2019-07-19). Polski Autokefaliczny Kościół Prawosławny w obszarze polityki wyznaniowej oraz polityki narodowościowej Polski Ludowej i III Rzeczypospolitej (in Polish). Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar. p. 207. ISBN 978-83-7383-987-8.
  16. ^ a b Luterek, Tomasz (2016-02-02). Reprywatyzacja: Źródła problemu (in Polish). Instytut Studiów Politycznych Polskiej Akademii Nauk. p. 185. ISBN 978-83-64091-60-5.
  17. ^ a b Sopiński, Michał (2020). Problem reprywatyzacji: doświadczenia, argumenty, rozwiązania (in Polish). Wydawnictwo Instytutu Wymiaru Sprawiedliwości. p. 155. ISBN 978-83-66344-49-5.
  18. ^ Ramet, Sabrina P. (2017), Ramet, Sabrina P.; Borowik, Irena (eds.), "Controversies in the Social and Political Engagement of the Catholic Church in Poland Since 1988", Religion, Politics, and Values in Poland: Continuity and Change Since 1989, Palgrave Studies in Religion, Politics, and Policy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 19–40, doi:10.1057/978-1-137-43751-8_2, ISBN 978-1-137-43751-8, retrieved 2021-08-20
  19. ^ Walencik, Dariusz. "Postępowanie regulacyjne przed Komisją Majątkową (na przykładzie wniosku parafii Matki Bożej Szkaplerznej w Imielinie)." Studia z Prawa Wyznaniowego 8 (2005): 259-294.
  20. ^ Sławiński, Wojciech (2008). "Działalność Komisji regulacyjnej ds. majątku Kościoła Ewangelicko-Augsburskiego w RP w świetle przepisów prawa i praktyki. Zarys problematyki". Roczniki Nauk Prawnych (in Polish). 18 (2): 349–365. ISSN 1507-7896.
  21. ^ Leszczyński, Paweł. "Regulacja majątkowa w odniesieniu do mienia żydowskiego w północnej części województwa lubuskiego." Studia z Prawa Wyznaniowego 12 (2009): 121-149.
  22. ^ Pelc, Paweł (1995). "Kwestia zwrotu mienia kościelnych osób prawnych w świetle ustawy o stosunku Państwa do Kościoła Katolickiego w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej". Prawo Kanoniczne (in Polish). 38 (1–2): 103–137. doi:10.21697/pk.1995.38.1-2.07. ISSN 2353-8104.
  23. ^ Walencik, Dariusz. "Regulacja stanu prawnego nieruchomości Kościoła katolickiego w Polsce w drodze decyzji administracyjnych a prawa nabyte osób trzecich." Studia z Prawa Wyznaniowego 9 (2006): 133-153.
  24. ^ a b c Denburg, Stephen A. (1998). "Reclaiming Their Past: A Survey of Jewish Efforts to Restitute European Property". Third World Law Journal. 18 (2): 233.
  25. ^ a b c d Beker, Avi (2001). "Introduction". In Avi Beker (ed.). The plunder of Jewish property during the Holocaust: confronting European history. Palgrave. ISBN 978-0-333-98528-1. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  26. ^ "Nacjonalizacja po II wojnie światowej". Portal prowadzony przez zespół doradczy ds. restytucji mienia (utworzony w Ministerstwie Spraw Zagranicznych). P. 2018-08-31. Archived from the original on 2018-08-31. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  27. ^ United States Department of Justice, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the U.S. Completed Programs - Poland
  28. ^ Rode, Zvonko R. (April 1961). "The American-Polish Claims Agreement of 1960". American Journal of International Law. 55 (2): 452–459. doi:10.1017/S0002930000234878. ISSN 0002-9300. S2CID 152018059.
  29. ^ Gruszczynski, Krzysztof (2020-07-01). "Jewish Restitution Claims Against Poland – Legal Analysis". Rochester, NY. SSRN 3640393. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. ^ Andrzejczyk, Robert (2015). "Polityka państwa polskiego wobec roszczeń zagranicznych powstałych w wyniku nacjonalizacji przeprowadzonej po II wojnie światowej. Przykład dwustronnych umów odszkodowawczych". Polityka i Społeczeństwo. 13 (4): 86–103. doi:10.15584/polispol.2015.4.6. ISSN 1732-9639.
  31. ^ Charnysh, Volha (2015-11-01). "Historical Legacies of Interethnic Competition: Anti-Semitism and the EU Referendum in Poland". Comparative Political Studies. 48 (13): 1736. doi:10.1177/0010414015598921. S2CID 146263853.
  32. ^ Pankowski, Rafał (2018-01-02). "The Resurgence of Antisemitic Discourse in Poland". Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. 12 (1): 11–12. doi:10.1080/23739770.2018.1492781. S2CID 149913361. Retrieved 2021-08-16.
  33. ^ Meijer, Jan (2019-10-18). "The Framing of Social Identity in the Political Discourse on Property Restitution in Post-Communist Poland". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  34. ^ Frątczak, Norbert (6 August 2021). "Śledztwo po śmierci Jolanty Brzeskiej umorzone. Ziobro grzmiał o błędach za poprzednich rządów, ale błędów nie ma". Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  35. ^ a b Bazyler, Michael; Gostynski, Szymon (2018). "Restitution of Private Property in Postwar Poland: The Unfinished Legacy of the Second World War and Communism". Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review. 41 (3): 273. Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  36. ^ Gera, Vanessa; Federman, Josef (2021-08-15). "Israel condemns Poland restitution law, recalls top diplomat". AP. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  37. ^ Lis, Jonathan (2021-08-14). "In protest over Polish restitution law, Lapid recalls Israel's top diplomat to Warsaw". Haaretz. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
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  39. ^ "Polish law on property stolen by Nazis angers Israel". BBC News. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  40. ^ Lazaroff, Tovah (15 August 2021). "Israel recalls envoy to protest signing of Poland's anti-restitution law". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  41. ^ Harkov, Lahav (18 August 2021). "UK joins opposition to Polish anti-restitution law". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 September 2021.