Exclusive – Polish Chief Rabbi to Polish Senate: Thou shalt not steal

Written by on July 6, 2021

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich will tell the Polish Senate on Wednesday that it is the country’s moral duty to provide compensation of some kind to anyone whose property was confiscated, Jew or non-Jew, by the Polish Communist government, The Jerusalem Post has learned. 

The rabbi has told close associates that he will tell the Senate this duty is derived from the Biblical  injunction in the Ten Commandments “Thou shall not steal.”

Last month, the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, approved legislation that would apply a thirty year statue of limitations to claims on property confiscated from their original owners by the Polish Communist regime after the Second World War.

After the war the Communist authorities enacted a massive program of property confiscation across the country, which included large amounts of property previously belonging to Poland’s pre-war Jewish population of some three million people, 90 percent of whom were murdered at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The new legislation would prevent Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and then lost property due to such confiscations, and their heirs, from reclaiming their property, or getting compensation for it.

The bill created a diplomatic incident between Israel and Poland after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the bill as “immoral” and said it would harm the rights of Holocaust survivors whose property was seized after the war by the Communist regime. 

The Post understands that Schudrich intends to strongly assert the rights of Jews, and non-Jews, and their heirs, whose property was confiscated by the Polish Communist government, and insist that morality requires that some form of compensation be provided. 

“One of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou shall not steal,’ the chief rabbi has told close associates he will state in an open hearing in the Polish Senate on Wednesday morning. 

“This property was stolen twice, once by the Germans when they occupied the country and the second time by the Communists after the war. The current Polish government is a successor to the Communist one, albeit very different, and ‘Thou shall not steal’ continues to apply 60 years and 80 years after a theft happened,” Schudrich has said. 

“There is a moral duty to compensate in some way someone whose property was stolen, and it is the moral responsibility of the government to recognize the injustice that happened.”

Schudrich will also assert that the religious identity of the victims of the Polish Communist regime’s property confiscations, whether Jewish or Catholic, is irrelevant, and that the moral obligation extends to all Polish citizens who had their property seized. 

The chief rabbi has said however that in many cases, Jewish property owners who survived the Holocaust left Poland after the Second World War, making it much harder for them to process their legal claims to their former property while living in another country. 

Schudrich has expressed his appreciation that the Polish Senate, unlike the lower house, is holding hearings and debates on the legislation, and that only by listening and talking can a moral and just solution be found. 

“An immoral act doesn’t go away, the affects of immorality never go away,” Schudrich told associates. 

“Everyone who owned property should have opportunity and right to receive some kind of compensation for the immorality of stealing their property.”

Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), which has lobbied strongly to bring international pressure to halt the legislation, expressed hope that the Polish Senate will look at how the proposed law will impact both Jews and non-Jews.  

“The truth is that after the War, the Communists nationalized private property on a massive scale – homes, businesses, land – all were turned over to the State,” said Taylor. 

“This is not about the terrible things that Germany did in Poland during the War. Holocaust survivors, their families and others have waited decades for a measure of justice for property that was confiscated from them after World War II,” he continued. 

“In effect, claimants who filed under the current requirements will now be told that their claims are extinguished. Poland must do the right and fair thing for these Jewish and non-Jewish rightful property owners.”

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