William Hague has vowed to continue pressing the Polish Government to legislate to allow victims of the Holocaust and their families to claim restitution for confiscated property.
As Britain took the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in February, fifty British parliamentarians backed a hard-hitting letter initiated by Baroness Deech calling on Prime Minister Donald Tusk to finally take action. The group also wrote to Foreign Secretary regarding restitution in central and eastern Europe, particularly focusing on Poland.
In his response this week, Hague said the issue of restitution is “important” to the UK and that concerns were raised during a recent visit to Warsaw by Sir Andrew Burns, the UK’s envoy for post-Holocaust issues, and he “will continue to do so at every opportunity”.
He added: “The British Embassy in Warsaw has on a number of occasions raised with the appropriate authorities the need to improve Poland’s law in the area of property restitution on behalf of all British citizens and claims. A proper and full resolution of these claims would serve to underline their national determination to play a leading role in Europe.
Deech said there is a focus on Poland because this was where the biggest loss of property occurred and because Poland is “the only country in the new Europe to have failed to make even a gesture of restitution through legislation, so it is the biggest problem and the least acceptable solution”.
Since 1990, successive Polish governments have introduced draft laws, but in most cases these never get voted on by parliament. When Tusk took power in 2007, he promised to do so once and for all, but in 2012 officials changed their tune, insisting a bill was no longer needed and that claimants could instead pursue their claims through the Polish legal system.
“We remain hopeful that the Polish Government will revive legislation and will continue to encourage them to do so,” said Hague. “More broadly the UK will continue to press for due recognition for victims in countries such as Poland where more can be done.”
A spokesman for the APPG on British Jews, which mobilised many of the signitaries to the letters to Tusk and Hague, said his response “demonstrates clearly that the Foreign Secretary is at one with UK parliamentarians in expecting Poland and other central and eastern European states to adhere to international guidelines on returning Holocaust era property.
“Only then can Jewish and others victims to gain a measure of justice for the horrors that they endured”.
Baroness Deech said: “We appreciate the understanding and support of the Foreign Secretary, and we are looking for him to encourage action during the UK chairmanship of the International Holocaust Alliance to press Poland to acknowledge the claims of Jews and non-Jews whose property was stolen and to settle the matter with some compensation from a central fund.”