Poland cancels Israeli visit over Holocaust restitution

WARSAW, Poland – The Polish government canceled a visit by an Israeli delegation that had been planned for Monday, saying the Israeli government made last-minute changes that suggested it would focus on the issue of the restitution of former Jewish property.

The delegation was to have been headed by Avi Cohen-Scali, director general of the Israeli Ministry for Social Equality, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said as it announced the cancellation Sunday.

It said without elaborating that “the Israeli side made last-minute changes in the composition of the delegation suggesting that the talks would primarily focus on the issues related to property restitution.”

The issue of former Jewish property in Poland is emerging as an emotional issue during campaigning before European elections this month and national elections in the fall.

Poland was once home to 3.3 million Jews, but most were murdered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Their properties were often looted by Germans and later nationalized by the communist regime. The World Jewish Restitution Organization has been seeking compensation on behalf of families who lost property.

On Saturday, thousands of nationalists marched in Warsaw to the U.S. Embassy to protest Washington’s pressure on Poland to settle the outstanding matter of unpaid restitution.

Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, suffering extensive material losses, and those protesting argued that it isn’t fair to ask Poland to compensate Jewish victims when the country has never received adequate compensation from Germany.

But Gideon Taylor, head of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, told The Associated Press on Monday that there is a huge misconception about his organization’s campaign and it is being manipulated for political reasons.

“The reality is that Poland was a victim country. But what we are talking about here is not property that the Nazis confiscated. We are talking about confiscation after the war, after the Holocaust by the communist government,” Taylor said. “We are not seeking what was taken by the Germans. We are seeking compensation for what was taken by Poland and I think this issue has been lost.”

Poland is the only European Union country that hasn’t passed legislation regulating the compensation or restitution of property lost as a result of the war and communism. A string of Polish governments has said that it can’t afford to do so.

Poland’s right-wing government had been vowing to made demands on Germany and saying that it wouldn’t pay any compensation for Jewish claims.

The nationalists who protested on Saturday said that Poland would be forced to give $300 billion to Jewish organizations.

Taylor said that this number is based “on nothing.”

“Our priority is to deal with people who have individual claims,” he said. “No one has any idea what the value of the properties is. What we want is a fair process that would address it. We are not looking for a sum of money.”

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Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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