Polish Jews Await Restitution; Bureaucracy Cited for Delay in Return of WWII Loot

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

Polish Jews Await Restitution; Bureaucracy Cited for Delay in Return of WWII Loot


Byline: Jay Bushinsky, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

JERUSALEM - Jewish communal properties confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and nationalized after the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe slowly are being returned to the rightful owners, though with bureaucratic foot-dragging, according to organizations tasked with handling the property disputes.

The market value of the synagogues, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries runs to hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).

The property is located in Poland, home of the largest prewar Jewish population, as well as in other former European satellites of the Soviet Union.

"The Eastern European officials keep pleading poverty and tell me they cannot finance [returning the properties]," said Naftali Lavie, WJRO's deputy chairman.

Many of the properties in question are being held by former Communist Party functionaries "who refuse to let it go," Mr. Lavie said in an interview.

WJRO specialists estimate the value of the private property left by the Holocaust's 6 million Jewish victims to be in the billions of dollars, but the organization's current focus is on the communal assets.

Poland has been responding to the WJRO's entreaties, but the restitution process has been very slow. It took seven years to retrieve the Yeshiva of Lublin, one of the world's most prestigious Talmudic schools.

The Jewish population of Poland has dropped from more than 3 million in World War II to less than 12,000 today.

Poland's official policy is that the money granted as financial compensation for the communal property must be spent on Polish soil and cannot be converted into foreign currencies for allocation abroad.

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