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Poles march against Holocaust compensation law

Hundreds of demonstrators were out on the streets in the Polish capital of Warsaw on Saturday, protesting against the US Senate's 447 bill. As people marched on the US Embassy against US pressure on Poland to compensate Jews who lost property during WWII, the gathering sparked accusations of anti-Semitism.

Published: May 12, 2019, 11:15 am

    Warsaw

    US legislation S447, also known as the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, was signed into law last year and requires the State Department to monitor the restitution of property seized during the Holocaust in dozens of countries.

    Countries implicated are signatories to the so-called Terezin Declaration, the outcome of the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference, which was signed by 46 nations, including Poland.

    But Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office expressed support for the protesters, and added that Poles rather deserve to be compensated for Nazi crimes. “We will not allow any damages to be paid to anyone because it is us who should get damages,” Morawiecki told Polish PAP news agency.

    Banners and slogans denounced the bill with protesters shouting, “This is Poland, not Polin,” the Hebrew word for Poland.

    The compensation law will damage the country’s economy, as Act 447 would force Poland to pay at least of US$300 billion in compensation.

    Opponents of the government described the march as one of the largest anti-Jewish gatherings in recent memory. The chairman of “anti-hate” group Never Again, told the Associate Press that the gathering was “probably the biggest openly anti-Jewish street demonstration in Europe in recent years.”

    The US State Department has appointed a new envoy on anti-Semitism. Elan Carr defended the bill saying that the US wants Poland to fulfil a non-binding commitment it made in 2009 to take action on compensating Holocaust victims.

    In an interview with the Polish media on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli politician Yair Lapid accused the Poles of taking an active part in the murder of Jews on Polish soil.

    Lapid is a former journalist serving as Chairman of the Yesh Atid party. He served as Minister of Finance between 2013 and 2014. Prior to his entry into politics in 2012, he was an author, TV presenter and news anchor.

    The interview was published on ONET, a popular Internet site in Poland, and caused a huge uproar in the country, with a flood of condemnations. The backlash against Lapid quickly spread, resulting in a huge outcry of indignation with thousands of Poles responsing.

    Even the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum published a statement condemning Lapid’s statement in which it compared his statements to those of Holocaust deniers. “Such a statement by a well-known Israeli politician hurts just as much as a confrontation with a Holocaust denier,” the museum wrote. “In both cases, they are conscious lies. The use of the Holocaust as a political tool is to mock its victims.”

    Lapid had earlier criticized “Polish law,” a law which was implemented over a year ago, banning the phrase “Polish death camps” and outlawing claims of collusion of the Polish nation with the Holocaust.

    In an interview with the Polish Internet portal ONET, Lapid refused to retract his remarks against the Polish government, claiming that it had provided support for anti-Semitism in Poland.

    According to the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the only two European countries without a “comprehensive private property restitution regime”.

    In April, hundreds of Poles marched in New York City protesting against the JUST Act. Israeli daily Haaretz reported that protesters held up signs pleading to “stop the Holocaust industry”.

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