Poland’s president has decided to sign a bill that would set limits on the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and retained by post-war communist rulers, a move likely to fuel tensions with Israel and the United States.
“I made a decision today on the act, which in recent months was the subject of a lively and loud debate at home and abroad,” Andrzej Duda said in a statement published on Saturday. “After an in-depth analysis, I have decided to sign the amendment.”
Up to now, Jewish expatriates or their descendants could make a claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return, but Polish officials argued this was causing uncertainty over property ownership.
In 2015 Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled there should be specific deadlines after which administrative decisions over property titles could no longer be challenged. Changes to the law were adopted by the Polish parliament earlier this week.
The bill sets a 30-year limit for restitution claims.
The issue of Jewish property rights in Poland is further complicated because, unlike other EU states, it has not created a fund to give compensation to people whose property was seized.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said Washington was deeply concerned that the Polish parliament had passed the bill, and urged Duda not to sign it into law.
Washington is one of Warsaw’s most important allies, but relations between the two countries have been strained by the property issue, as well as other issues such as plans to introduce changes that the opposition says aim to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.
World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) on Saturday urged the Polish government to work on resolving the issue of property seized in the past.
“Democracy & justice hits new low in Poland, as President Duda signs a law making it virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally seized during the Communist era,” Gideon Taylor, chair of operations of the WJRO said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Before World War Two, Poland had been home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities, but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis and Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation.