By KEVIN DERBY
Senate Foreign Relations Committeeman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is calling on the U.S. State Department to support Poland to do more for those who lost their property to the Nazis and the communist regime that took over after World War II.
Rubio paired up with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., to send a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the matter, rounding up 86 other senators to sign as well.
“The United States and Poland have a strong relationship dating back to the American Revolutionary War that continues today through our NATO partnership. Our alliance is not only based on shared interests, but also the deep affinity between our peoples, who aspire to common ideals. One of those ideals, respect for private property rights, is foundational to the success of democracies,” the senators wrote. “That is why we were heartened by your public statement in Warsaw in February calling on Poland to take appropriate steps to restitute private property belonging to Holocaust victims, their families and others from whom it was confiscated during the Communist era. Prime Minister Morawiecki’s response to your comments, in which he said that Poland has ‘resolved’ this issue, was deeply troubling. As you know, the issue has not been resolved~ nor will it go away.
“Now is the time, while the last Holocaust survivors are still alive, to back up our words with meaningful action. We encourage you to pursue bold initiatives to help Poland to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” the senators added. “Poland suffered greatly during the Second World War, and its Jewish population was singled out by the Nazis for extermination. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 3 million Jews – 90 percent of Poland’s prewar Jewish population -were murdered by the Nazis. An estimated 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by the Nazis as well. It was the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators – not Poland- that systematically confiscated Jewish property during the Second World War. After the war, the Communist regime in Poland nationalized property owned by Jews and nonJews. In the decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jewish Holocaust survivors of Polish origin and their families as well as others have found it nearly impossible to reclaim or seek compensation for the property that was nationalized by the Polish Communist regime. In fact, Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed a comprehensive law for the restitution of or compensation for private property, despite in 2009, endorsing the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets along with the United States and 45 other nations which among other things encouraged states to pass national legislation that facilitates restitution ‘in a fair, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory manner.'”
Rubio and Baldwin have worked on the issue before. They teamed up with U.S. Reps. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY, to bring back the “Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act” out in 2016 and it was passed in 2016. The sponsors insisted the bill “will improve efforts to assist Holocaust survivors and the families of Holocaust victims by requiring the State Department to report on the progress of certain European countries on the return of (or restitution for), wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets.”
The legislation continued efforts from the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues of 2009 which “affirms that the protection of property rights is an essential component of a democratic society based on the rule of law and recognizes the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust-era between 1933-45“ and had the State Department report on how Central and Eastern European counties are complying with those efforts.
Rubio’s and Baldwin’s letter garnered support this week.
“The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the resounding call by 88 senators – led by Senators Baldwin and Rubio — for Poland to restitute property to Holocaust victims and their families,” said Gideon Taylor, the chair of operations of the WJRO, on Monday. “Time is of the essence. With fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors alive today, Poland must urgently address this historic wrong.”
“This letter demonstrates that the United States Congress has not forgotten about Holocaust survivors and remains steadfast in pursuing justice for them,” said Eric Gallagher, WJRO’s representative in Washington. “Senators Baldwin and Rubio are tireless champions for the rights of survivors and we cannot thank them enough for their bold leadership.”
“I lost my entire family in the Holocaust and I survived the Warsaw ghetto. I still have the deeds to two properties in Warsaw. Poland should be more responsive to thousands of Holocaust survivors who are seeking justice for property that was stolen from them,” said Norman Trysk-Frajman, an 89 year old Holocaust survivor living in Boynton Beach. “I want to personally thank Senators Tammy Baldwin and Marco Rubio, and all the other senators for making property restitution in Poland a priority.”