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U.S. Helsinki Commission Seeks Action on Nazi, Communist-Era Property Restitution

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Helsinki Commission released today a letter to Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz calling on the Polish Government to pass a law providing redress for individuals who suffered private property confiscations during the Nazi and communist-eras.

“We welcome the passage earlier this year of a bill to provide some compensation for individuals who suffered wrongful confiscations in areas east of the Bug River. But, the fact remains that Poland is the only country in Central Europe that has failed to adopt a general private property compensation or restitution law,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “When you are talking about victims of property confiscation, particularly from the Nazi occupation, you are talking about elderly people for whom every delay truly means justice denied.”

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

“The Commission has closely followed this issue for several years. In 2002, I was told by then-President Kwasniewski that a general law would be ready in 2003, yet two years later nothing has passed. As a new government takes office in Poland, we cannot let this matter slip through the cracks,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz, and signed by nine Helsinki Commissioners, suggests that the passage of a compensation package for the confiscations east of the Bug River should pave the way toward passage of further legislation.

Thousands of people had their property confiscated by German occupiers and by the Soviet-backed Polish communist government after World War II. Successive Polish Governments have addressed the problem of communal property confiscations, but have not yet adopted a general law providing actual restitution of, or compensation for private property confiscations on Polish territory.

“A great injustice took place over 50 years ago, and in some ways it still goes on,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “By passing a fair and non-discriminatory private property law, the Polish Government and people will be able to finally close the books on a dark and sinister period in history and give a measure of comfort to those who will always be haunted by the ghosts of the past.”

The Helsinki Commission first held a hearing on the issue of property restitution in post-communist Europe in July of 1996, and members of the Commission, including Co-Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Cardin, and Rep. Pitts have met with Polish Government officials over the years to encourage both a rapid and just resolution of the issue.

“For Commissioners, the property compensation issue is not only a matter of justice, it is a matter of concern to many Americans whose families were caught up in the war. This hits home for us,” added Brownback.

The letter was sent to Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz on December 16, and was also sent to President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Stefan Meller. Foreign Minister Meller is in Washington today.

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