Poland's Decision to Suspend Compensation Plans for WWII Victims

I should be writing a recipe about Polish Creamed Green Peas and another about raising a bi-lingual child in the USA, but...

Right now, there is a controversial decision by the Polish government being discussed around the world.  The decision to suspend compensation plans for real estate seized by Nazi Germany and then by the USSR Communists.

If you haven't heard about it, I asked Poland.gov.pl's facebook fan page administrator about it and she kindly gave me the following links:

http://www.ejpress.org/article/49652

http://thenews.pl/national/artykul151246_polands-chief-rabbi-rails-against-restitution-backdown.html

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-congress-condemns-poland-s-decision-to-halt-property-restitution-1.349366

First, I need to address something I am noticing in the first article, and has been a trend throughout some other articles, is the term "post-war Polish communists".  Whoever wrote this article must not know their history.  Otherwise, I can not fathom how the USSR, the Soviet Communists, can be mistaken for the Polish government, as the term "post-war Polish Communists" (as a side note, I always thought you capitalized the word Communist) implies. 

To me, it smacks of the same lack of understanding and perhaps even purposeful rewriting of history as the "Polish Concentration Camps" issue, which Mr. Alex Storozynski fought against recently with his effective petition.

I acknowledge there were some Poles who were Communists.  But let's get something clear.  There were also Jewish Communists, American Communists, Ukrainian Communists, British Communists, etc.  That doesn't mean that those countries were Communist.  And if I recall correctly, the USSR was in control of Poland, as well as other countries, and was a Communist government.

Back to the point, I wanted to share a conversation I had with a friend once.  He was originally from South Africa and his family were Polish Jews.  He has since moved back to South Africa but he, my husband and myself had the chance to spend some great afternoons together hiking and discussing Nature, History, Cultures, and all sorts of other interesting subjects.

One day, we were discussing his Polish roots.  His father was born in Poland and fled to South Africa from the German Nazis as he was Jewish.  I can't fault him for that, I would have done the same.  In fact, my non-Jewish Babcia on my father's side fled the Nazis as well, first to France, then to the US, then back to Poland once the Nazi madness was over.

The discussion continued to his father deciding to return to Poland for a time.  He wanted his property back.  This was about ten years ago.  Our friend went on to say that the villagers treated his father rudely and refused to give him back the estate.

Here is what I think on that subject.  Now, this is just my opinion.  Not the opinion of all Poles, Polish Americans, or Americans.  Only mine.

WWWII ended in 1945.  Ten years ago, this would have been 56 years ago.  I understand that some time passes before someone extremely traumatized by such events can return.

But I learned something from my father, which has guided me in a lot of my views in life.  Always look at the big picture before deciding which side you sit on.  And religion and fact are just part of that. Human emotion are also a part of that.

So, I listened to what he said, and visualized Poland as I knew her.  Only in 1989 did Poland finally gain her freedom from Communist Russia.  Ten years ago, this would have been 12 years of freedom. 

If you have not been to a former Communist country and not listened to it's people what it was like, you have no idea.  The way my Babcia sums it up is "There was no toilet paper.  No chocolate for the children.  You stood in line for hours only to find out the store had only one bag of potatoes to sell and they were rotten."  That's why my parents fled with me to Austria, and later to the US.  Can you imagine?

And no, this was not Poland's own doing.  This is what every country suffered through under the Communist regime which dictated from Moscow.

Also, when Poland's government fled in exile to Britain in order to keep fighting the Nazis, she placed her entire Treasury in the "trustworthy" care of Switzerland.  All of which was stolen (or handed over to, whichever way your history book states it) by the Nazis.  At the time when I had this conversation with our friend, I had read and heard that when Poland was reimbursed (a lot but not reimbursed all, as I recall) her stolen treasury, the Polish government then handed the money to fund the creation of the Israeli government.  At this time, I cannot find any proof of this anywhere.  But if this is true, that is an amazing gesture.

Now, let's imagine a village in Poland after WWII.  Homes destroyed, the population traumatized by the horrors which were dealt to the local residences at the hands of the German Nazis and the Soviet soldiers.  They are told that the treaty for the ending of this war included handing over Poland to the Soviets.  Life is hard.  Nazi concentration camps in Poland are for a while used by the Soviets.

People are freed from concentration camps and not given a direction or help by their "liberators" and simply wander the countryside, mentally still in the camps.  Slowly, painfully, life goes on.  Poland picks herself up as a people, though once again, no longer a country, removed off the map of Europe.  Again.

Time passes.  There are times when it's not so bad anymore.  When life is full of promise and hope.  Other times, there is oppression and people by the hundreds of thousands again die of starvation, or are sent to Siberia, or just never heard from again.

The little village lost half of it's residences during WWII.  Now, the question is this...

Should the houses have stayed empty all this time?  When people like my grandparents were on a waiting list for about 5 years, waiting to be given a small apartment because so much of Poland had been destroyed.  Buildings, homes, places to live.  When people were thankful to be given an apartment the size of my living room.

Should the houses of the WWII victims stayed empty, waiting in hope that someone, a relative of some kind would return to claim it?  5 years later.  15 years later.  55 years later.

Should the fields have not been worked in the meantime?  Cows, horses, pigs of the victims not eaten by a starving populace in the meantime?

I know what the Bible says.  And that is not stealing.  If you think the person is dead and your children are starving, do you let them starve?  Or tell the Soviet government no when they assign you that house?  Do you think that is what the Bible teaches us to do?

Later on, when the new owners decide to sell the property, as they 20, 30, 55 years later, might want to, do they not have that right?  Do the new owners not have claim to that property when they pay for it with money, as the old owners did?  They pay taxes to the government, care for the property, live and die in that property. Just as the victims of WWII did.

Alright.  Now, let's discuss the government of Poland.  Which is only about 23 years old.  After 6 years of WWII, 44 years of Soviet rule.  Prior to which, was only it's own country for 21 years after WWI, a victim of WWI for 4 years, and off the maps of Europe in the Great Partitions for about 123 years.  I'm not asking for a pity party.  I'm saying, know the facts.  All of them.  Grasp the full situation of a country before deciding who is right about what.

Poland right now is the least impacted country in the EU right now from the recession.  That does not mean they are the richest country in the EU right now.  If country X had 800 dollars and only lost 8 in the recession and country Y had 1,000 and lost 150, then country X is least effected but country Y has more money.  I am also not saying Poland is the poorest.  I am just saying, look at figure before slapping a fun and easy to swallow summary on a country's economy and making your decisions from there.

Also, in order for Poland to be a member of the EU, Poland must maintain a certain economic and budgetary balance.  With the economy being what it is and the recession, as well as the still in progress picking upand fixing of the damage caused by the Soviet government, it's not as simple as you might think.  I have been following the Polish economy and it's not so easy to fix all that.

Poland being a member of the EU also benefits Israeli citizens who can claim Polish citizenship, as they can also use their Polish passport to move freely between EU countries, whereas their Israeli passport does not allow that at this time.

In the end, I told our friend, "I understand how your father felt.  But I have to also see it from the villagers perspective and it wasn't fair to them either that your father expected them to simply hand over the house when he himself admits nobody for 56 years knew anything about what happened to the family except that they had died.  I'm so sorry what happened to your family.  Did your father speak to the local government to see what was able to be done with this?"

He stopped talking during that hike.  And after that day, did not speak to us.  I'm not sure what I did wrong, other than empathize with an entire victimized nation, rather than one particular people.

What would you have done?  How does Poland's decision make you feel?



For other's perspectives in the Polonia (Polish American Community), you can also read here at Jagahost's Polish Culture Forum...

 

For the original article...

Polish Mama on the Prairie

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