(Washington) - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) recently hand-delivered a letter to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, urging him to address the issue of property restitution in Poland.
The Commission letter to President Kwasniewski stressed the urgent need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland.
President Kwasniewski received the letter, signed by ten Commissioners and one other Member of Congress, during the meeting organized by Speaker of the House Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) on July 18.
Property in Poland was seized by the Nazis during World War II and was later taken over by Poland's communist regimes. Poland's situation is particularly complex due to its substantial shift in borders, territory and population after World War II. Since 1989, Polish and American citizens have urged the Polish Government to address the return of expropriated property to rightful owners.
Assurances from Polish officials that a draft property restitution law will be considered by the Polish Parliament in early 2003 have failed to comfort aging Holocaust survivors as seven previous attempts to pass such legislation have failed. During a Helsinki Commission hearing on July 16, entitled "Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: The State of Affairs for American Claimants," one witness testified that "the Polish effort to provide property restitution has so far failed. Every single year brings with it news reports that Poland is preparing comprehensive legislation to deal with the property restitution issue. However, no legislation has been passed to date."
The letter was signed by Co-Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN). Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) also signed the letter.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.