A Jewish peer has launched a blistering attack on Poland for “squatting on the property of three million” Holocaust victims, during a House of Lords debate on restitution last week.
Baroness Ruth Deech said the country was “the most egregious offender” when it came to returning Nazi-looted art, as peers debated a Bill to extend the ability of UK museums to return artworks to the descendants of their former owners.
“The Terezin declaration, to which the UK is a party, called on those countries that have not yet made restitution to do so along the lines of the declaration,” she said.
“The most egregious offender is Poland, squatting on the property of three million victims of the Nazis, the only country in modern Europe to refuse to set up a scheme for compensation.”
She said this “presented yet another example of Poland’s cavalier attitude to the rule of law and European obligations,” adding: “The European Parliament, US Congress and British parliamentarians have urged Poland to do justice—so far to no avail.”
Deech said restitution was “symbolically important,” because it “sends a message to this war-torn world that, if the enemy despoiler does his worst, nevertheless, in the end, that wrong will be righted”.
The Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998 agreed the need to identify art looted by the Nazis in public museums and galleries around the world, and to establish dispute resolution mechanisms for claims.
Lord Younger said “very little looted art found its way to the UK during and after the war, unlike mainland Europe, where many hundreds of works of art have been returned to claimants over the years”.
Lord Pickles, the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, said: “Around the world, thousands of artefacts, properties and belongings remain in the wrong hands.
“People and communities are often very proud of their collections and may even be well meaning, but stolen property in the most benign and cultured hands is still theft. It is shocking that, even today, thousands of injustices remain uncorrected.”