Prague — In 1988, Yehuda Evron received a memorable letter from Lech Walesa, the first post-communist president of Poland, on the eve of the country’s transition to democracy.
“He wrote that within a few months we would get my wife’s property back,” recalled Evron, now 80. His wife was the only Holocaust survivor of a family that owned a residential building and factory in Zwienec that had been confiscated by the Nazis and then seized by Poland’s communist government.
Evron, a Romanian emigre and leader of the New York-based Holocaust Restitution Committee, which represents claims of thousands of survivors from Poland, chortled bitterly last week when recalling his initial optimism after corresponding with Walesa. Four decades have passed since, many more survivors have died and Polish leaders repeatedly have reneged on promises to enact a restitution law to compensate for the billions of dollars in property stolen from Jews and non-Jews during and after the Holocaust.
Home to more Jews than any other country before World War II, Poland is now the only European country to endure Nazi occupation that has not enacted a law to ensure some kind of private property compensation or restitution to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.
Evron talked to JTA at last week’s Prague meeting on Holocaust restitution, called the Immovable Property Review Conference, which was organized as a follow-up to a 2009 conference in this city that produced a historic resolution on Holocaust assets. The resolution, called the 2009 Terezin Declaration, was signed by 46 countries that committed to speeding up the restitution of private and communal property to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.
This year’s conference and the 2009 parley were organized and supported by the Czech Foreign Ministry, U.S.-based Jewish organizations and the U.S. State Department, with participation from countries throughout Europe.
At last week’s gathering, many of the references to 2009 were in the form of laments that so little had been accomplished in three years.