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British Lawmakers Press Poland on Holocaust Restitution

A group of British parliamentarians is pressing Poland’s prime minister to follow through on a pledge to enact a restitution law for Holocaust victims.

Poland was among 46 nations that signed a 2009 declaration committing to restitution legislation for Holocaust-era property seized by the Nazis, but it has not passed any restitution laws for private property, making it one of only a handful of former Communist countries without such legislation.

“Unfortunately, Poland stands out in its failure to fulfill – or even recognize – its responsibility to victims,” says a letter sent Monday to Prime Minister Donald Tusk and signed by 15 British members of Parliament and 35 lords and baronesses. The primary signatory is Ruth Deech, a Jewish member of Britain’s House of Lords who had grandparents on both sides of her family with substantial property in Poland.

“Poland has a responsibility to elderly Holocaust survivors, their heirs and other victims to return property which was seized by the Nazis or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regimes,” the letter says. “Democratic Poland continues unjustly to benefit from the victims’ private property. Many of these victims and their heirs – both Jews and non-Jews – are British citizens.”

The letter to Tusk was coordinated by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

“This is first time that there has ever been such a letter on Holocaust restitution from a parliamentary group in Europe,” said Gideon Taylor, an expert on restitution who used to direct the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and is now assisting the WJRO on a voluntary basis.

Last November, the secretary of the WJRO, Colette Avital, published an open letter to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski calling on the country to honor its “unfulfilled commitments” on Holocaust restitution. The letter, which was published in The Jerusalem Post, appeared on the eve of Komorowski’s visit to Israel.

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