As the Iron Curtain crumbled in Poland, I had the honor of witnessing the rebirth of a nation. As a young advance man for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, I traveled to Poland and witnessed firsthand the work he and Polish President Lech Walesa did to free the country from the tyranny of communism.
Since then, Poland has made great strides as a democracy. But on one major issue that impacts thousands of Americans – respecting the private property rights of Holocaust survivors – Poland is not meeting the high standards set forth by Lech Walesa and George H.W. Bush.
President Trump has led the way in advocating for justice for Holocaust survivors, having signed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act last May. Poland has ignored and rebuffed his administration repeatedly on the issue in a manner unbecoming of an ally.
The fact is that Poland is not being fair to thousands of American Holocaust survivors and their families who are seeking justice for property that was stolen from them. As a staunch supporter of Poland and the Jewish people, President Trump should not let this continue.
The Holocaust was not only the murder of 6 million Jews but also the largest theft in human history. While Poland was a victim of a ruthless Nazi occupation, the Polish Communist regime nationalized all property after the war, and very few Holocaust survivors have been able to recover or receive compensation for it since. With as many as 47 survivors dying each day, time is running out to provide them with the justice they deserve.
Poland must negotiate a deal on property restitution that President Trump’s predecessors have been unable to achieve.
Poland is the only major European country that has not passed a law that would allow for the restitution of private property despite promising to do so repeatedly. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was right to urge Poland to pass a law for the restitution of private property during his visit to Warsaw in February. During that visit, Pompeo said that Poland should “move forward with comprehensive private property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust era.”
Shockingly, the prime minister publicly rebuked the secretary of state of the United States just days after he left Warsaw, incorrectly calling the issue “closed” by citing a 1960 treaty that did not concern the property of most Holocaust survivors who fled Poland after the war. He is conducting himself in a manner that is highly inappropriate for any ally, let alone one that is lobbying for the establishment of a permanent US military base on its soil. President Trump should tell him that.
A day after the Polish prime minister told a political rally that Poland will never compensate Jews for their property, thousands of Polish nationalists protested outside of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, using anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric. The protesters directly attacked President Trump and the Congress for passing the JUST Act, which calls on countries like Poland to fulfill their promises to Holocaust survivors.
Such behavior is unbecoming of an ally. It is important that President Trump remind Poland of this, and there is no better way to do that than to help Poland resolve this issue once and for all by negotiating a deal on property restitution that President Trump’s predecessors have been unable to achieve.