Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017
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|Long title||An Act to require reporting on acts of certain foreign countries on Holocaust era assets and related issues.|
|Enacted by||the 115th United States Congress|
|Effective||9 May 2018|
|Public law||Pub.L. 115–171 (text) (pdf)|
The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017 (Pub.L. 115–171 (text) (pdf),S. 447 (and identical H.R. 1226)) is US legislation that requires the State Department to report to Congress on steps that 47 countries in Europe (the signatories of the 2009 non-binding Terezin Declaration) have taken to compensate Holocaust survivors and their heirs for assets seized by Nazi Germany and post-war communist governments.
The bill does not provide the US with any enforcement power, only requiring reporting to Congress.
The Terezin Declaration from 2009, to which 47 countries are signatories, states that protection of property rights is part of the rule of law and an essential feature of democratic societies. The declaration recognizes the importance of property restitution or compensation in regards to property confiscated during the Holocaust era between 1933 and 1945. According to Tammy Baldwin and Marco Rubio, the Senate sponsors of the bill, while several countries have endorsed the declaration they have not actually implemented the required restitution. In addition to restitution to survivors and heirs, the Terezin Declaration states that heirless property (which devolved to the state) should be used for the benefit of needy Holocaust survivors, commemoration, and Holocaust education.
Prior to Second World War Poland had a Jewish population of over 3.3 million, of which only 369,000 survived the war and the Holocaust. After the war ended, the communist government in Poland, in a rush to rebuild the German destroyed country, enacted a wide program of nationalization taking over both Polish and Jewish owned property. Most of the property seized and nationalized by the communists after the war, including most of the properties in the Polish capital of Warsaw, belonged to non-Jewish Poles and estimates of Jewish claims are just between 15%-20% of all potential claims.
Jewish properties which were confiscated by the Nazis and subsequently nationalized by the Soviet installed Communist authorities in Poland  as "abandoned properties". According to Dariusz Stola, the laws nationalizing "abandoned property" "...have been imposed with, among other things, the possessions of murdered Jews in mind", though they did not include explicit ethnic criteria; however the near-complete destruction of Poland's Jewry, along with the fact that only Jewish property was officially confiscated as such by the Nazi regime, suggest "abandoned property" was generally understood to be "Jewish property", and most of the victims' property was classified as "abandoned". In Warsaw, the post-war Bierut Decree transferred all land, regardless of the identity of the owner, to the control of the city; while in theory owners could demand for compensation, in practice such claims were mostly refused or ignored. The "abandoned" properties are estimated to have a total value in the billions of dollars. Between 1948 and 1971 the People's Republic of Poland signed treaties with 14 other countries housing former property owners, and paying equivalent of today's 1.2 billion zlotys. In 1960 a treaty signed between People's Republic of Poland and United States stated that all compensation claims in US would be directed to and dealt with by the US government, as Poland paid 40 million dollars (in 1960 values) to US authorities, settling over 10,169 claims, with over 5,022 claim awards, with $100,737,681.63 in the principal amount, plus interest in the amount of $51,051,825.01, with the amount of payment being 33% of principal. Some communal Jewish property was also restored in 1997, after Jewish organizations used the precedent of the restoration of Catholic Church property to make file claims of their own.
After the fall of Communism some claimants were able to recover their property; however, the small numbers of successful claimants "did not change the trend of Jewish property in non-Jewish hands." The recovery process proved highly contentious and controversial, opening the door to fraud and corruption, and a general "sense of injustice." In Warsaw in particular it was further complicated by the destruction of Warsaw during the War, with 90% of buildings having been demolished by German troops. In 1997 Poland as part of wider program returned or gave out compensation in regards to religious Jewish communal property
In 2018 the Polish government prepared a draft restitution legislation that would allow return of 20% of property value in nature to close descendants of heirs, that had Polish citizenship and were on territory of Poland when their property was nationalized. The law was criticized by Jewish organizations and put on hold. As of late 2018 Poland still had no single, unified law regarding reprivatisation, and the process has been slow and based on a patchwork of several smaller, limited laws.[better source needed] As of 2018 22,000 individuals received compensation.
The bill requires the State Department to report to congress on steps that 47 countries in Europe, signatories of the 2009 Terezin Declaration, have taken to compensate Holocaust survivors and their heirs for assets seized by Nazi Germany and post-war communist governments. Additional reporting requirements are specified on restitution to Holocaust survivors who are US citizens or their relatives.
In addition to the above, the bill contains provision calling for restitution of property even if the owners died without leaving any descendants - the so-called heirless property. It is an accepted customary international law that heirless property becomes property of the state.[verification needed]
The Terezin declaration states that "in some states heirless property could serve as a basis for addressing the material necessities of needy Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and to ensure ongoing education about the Holocaust (Shoah), its causes and consequences". The JUST act requires reporting on the adherence to Terezin, including so called heirless property.
Responses to the law
While the bill does not single out any particular country, the Polish government sees itself as the target of the law. It particular, it is strongly opposed to compensation for heirless property, as this would imply, in their view, co-responsibility for the Holocaust.
In April 2018, former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller publicly stated that all property claims by individuals that are US citizens have been settled by the agreement signed between USA and Poland on 16 July 1960.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz criticized basing restitution of property based on ethnic criteria, which amounts to "[demanding] privileges for the Jews, for the Jewish community". Czaputowicz noted that Poles who had fought Nazi Germany and later emigrated had their property seized by the Communist authorities, yet "nobody speaks on their behalf, only on the behalf of the Jews. That is not good because that divides our society." In reply, the World Jewish Restitution Organization stated that they did not find the act to be discriminatory, as it covers "both Holocaust victims and other victims of Nazi persecution." It further added that "[we have] long advocated for the passage of [Polish] legislation that would provide restitution to all property owners whose property was wrongfully taken—both Jewish and non-Jewish owners". Diplomat Ryszard Schnepf categorically rejected the idea of paying any compensation for "heirless property" and different treatment of groups based on their ethnicity or religion.
Adam Sandauer[who?] criticized the idea of claiming compensation from Poland and what he calls "selective treatment of claims based on ethnic criteria", wrote that a question arises if the claims should be paid for by German state who murdered original owners rather than Polish state who took over heirless property after the war if the owners perished, as per law. According to Sandauer a global solution based on compromise and compromise need to be enacted that will treat all ethnic groups equally (Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Armenians, or Serbs and Croats), not just one nation.
According to former Polish diplomat and publicist Witold Jurasz, enacting the provision to restitute only former Jewish property (most likely to Jewish American organizations) while leaving non-Jewish property in hands of the state would in effect mean that Polish Jews wouldn't be considered Poles, which could be considered antisemitic, and likewise giving preference to one ethnic group would be racially discriminating.
Robert Bakiewicz of the National Radical Camp stated the law was a threat to Poland and involves 300 billion dollars worth of real estate. Anti-establishment party Kukiz'15 and an ultra-nationalist coalition established for the EU elections floated bills that would state formally that Poland refuses to compensate for heirless property.
On 25 April 2018, a protest led by the far-right National Movement's president Robert Winnicki was held in front of the US embassy in Warsaw, Winnicki saying that "The Jews will not get a penny from us". A Polish-American group, including Richard Widerynski who is the former president of the Polish American Congress of Southern California lobbied against law, saying on their website that demands for restitution are "illegitimate extortion attempts". On 11 May 2019, thousands of far-right Polish nationalists marched to the United States Embassy in Warsaw protesting the JUST act. Protesters said that "Americans only think about Jewish and not Polish interests", that "this is Poland, not Polin" (the Hebrew name for Poland), and some wore shirts reading "death to the enemies of the fatherland" and "I will not apologize for Jedwabne". Many of the protesters stated that as Poland was one of the most devastated countries in the aftermath of World War II "it is not fair to ask Poland to compensate Jewish victims when Poland has never received adequate compensation from Germany." Some protesters had signs on what they claim are "U.S. double standards", suggesting that U.S. should return land stolen from the Native Americans. According to sociologist Rafal Pankowski, this was "probably the biggest openly anti-Jewish street demonstration in Europe in recent years."
On 31 March 2019 hundreds of protesters, described by media as either Polish Nationalists or Polish-Americans, protested in Foley Square in New York, as well as in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere in the USA against the restitution bills. Organizers of the protests included Polish-American organizations such as the Committee to Protect the Katyn Monument, the Polish American Strategic Initiative, Związek Żołnierzy Narodowych Sił Zbrojnych, the Polish Heritage Council of North America and the Polish American Congress of Southern California. The Polish American Congress, the biggest Polish-American organization,[according to whom?] did not take part in the protests, stating that "it does not require a soothsayer to predict that the mass media will write: 'On March 31, 2019, Polish Americans took to the streets to deny elderly Holocaust survivors compensation for their property.'" Some of the protesters carried antisemitic signs such as referencing the "Holocaust Industry" or the Jewish greed stereotype, and some engaged in Holocaust denial rhetoric. Simon Wiesenthal Center called on the Polish government to condemn the rally. According to historian Jonathan Brent, the protests "were not routine political gatherings but demonstrations aimed at rewriting the history of the Holocaust that featured open displays of anti-Semitism in major American cities". According to historian Matthew Lenoe, "the event was the latest attempt to erase complex or negative aspects of Polish history" in a similar fashion to the 2018 Polish Holocaust law, and raises "disturbing questions about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe".
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