Łódź – Jugendstil architecture by Sludge G via Flickr
Building at Casimir III the Great Square in Tarnów by Motilla (own
Katowice – Tylko kamienica/Just a house by Kris Duda via Flickr
Tenement, 19 Pilsudskiego street, Krakow, Poland
By Zygmunt Put Zetpe0202 (Own work)
HOW OUR WORK RELATES TO PROJECT HEART
Q. What is Project HEART?
Project HEART stands for Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce.
Project HEART (www.heartwebsite.org) was launched around 2011. It
was initially promoted as an international project, with the aim of
obtaining some measure of compensation for financial losses of
Holocaust victims and their heirs, which have not been compensated.
Project HEART had strong support of the government of Israel (who
provided the bulk
of its funding) and the moral support of certain Jewish
organizations. Launched around 2011, for the first few years Project
HEART was calling upon victims of the Holocaust and
their heirs to file
with Project HEART documented claims for the uncompensated asset
Though it did not say this directly, the initial message of
Project HEART was that it will obtain compensation for losses of those
who file claims with Project HEART. Indeed, many thousands of persons
filed claims with project HEART. A large
part of these claims concerned real property located in Poland.
Q. What is the status of
A. By the summer of 2014, the outgoing telephone messages
of Project HEART were that for the time being it was not
further claims, that its offices in Europe and the United States were
closed, and that its office in Israel remained open. Accordingly, until
March 2016, we remained hopeful that Project HEART will be reorganized
and will go forward. We put a rather optimistic message on our website
to this effect.
Regrettably, as of the March 2016, we no longer
believe that Project
HEART will achieve any meaningful compensation for claimants. There are
several reasons for this pessimism:
- Looking back, it seems that Project HEART was never well
- Project HEART’s offices in the USA and in Europe were
closed in 2014 and two years later have not been reopened.
- In March 2016 we wrote to Project HEART to inquire about
its status. We received an answer from the Ministry for Social Equality
of Israel, which indicates that Project HEART has abandoned efforts to
directly obtain compensation for claimants. This includes many
thousands of claimants who filed claims with Project
Accordingly, we believe that
at present (since March 2016)
individual claims through the Polish legal system are the only avenue
left for obtaining restitution from Poland.
As specialists in the field of recovery of expropriated assets in
Poland, we feel obligated to remind potential claimants that:
- Time is not running in their favor. See DEADLINES
- Not all
expropriated assets are recoverable in Poland — each case needs to be
- Small assets are not worth the effort required
to recover them.
Below, we elaborate further on these matters.
Poland have any law or
governmental program to return / restitute confiscated (nationalized,
expropriated or otherwise taken away) properties located on its present
A. No. Unfortunately, Poland has no
such re-privatization law or such compensation program concerning
private property. However, while
refusing to provide a general property return or restitution scheme,
successive Polish governments have repeatedly stated that individual
pursue their claims before the Polish courts.
This avenue has worked
for thousands upon thousands of claimants, including some working with
us. And this is the avenue we advise, with certain precautions and
Q. What about properties
on the territory of pre-war Poland which presently belongs to
Lithuania, Belarus or Ukraine?
A. Because these properties are located outside Poland’s jurisdiction,
their recovery is not possible through Polish courts. However, persons
possessing Polish citizenship (Polish law permits multiple
citizenships) could claim in Poland compensation at 20% of the
value of properties left in those former Polish territories.
Successful claimants who applied, have often received other properties
rather than cash. Additional conditions and restrictions apply.
are also some avenues to recover properties under the laws of some of
these other countries (Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine).
Q. How come Poland does not
have a program to compensate former owners / heirs for nationalized or
expropriated property located on its present territory?
A. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, the government of Poland has
about creating such a program, but no such legislation was
ever put to the Polish parliament to vote on. In the early
Poland proposed to international Jewish organizations and to non-Jewish
organizations too, to
enact legislation that would provide
compensation at 15% to 20% of the value of confiscated private
property, to be paid over 20 years. This offer was rejected.
premier of Poland made a very similar offer in 2008
(via the proposed Re-Privatization Act, which also was never put to a
vote in the Polish parliament.
This offer was criticized by international
Jewish organizations and by the Poland's Union of Real Estate and
Property Owners, and no improved offer was ever made.
One is forced to conclude that 27 years after the fall
of Communism, the Polish government has not made an attractive offer of
restitution and will not make one in the
The exception is the so-called “Communal
Following on Poland’s restitution of properties taken from the
Roman-Catholic Church, Poland also has transferred to Jewish
certain assets of former Jewish communities (e.g. buildings and
Individuals, however, must take legal steps to recover
the assets they inherited.
It should be noted that the Communist confiscations of private
Poland affected both Jews and non-Jews. There are estimates that the Jewish
claims (and potential claims) concerning confiscated property represent
around 20% to 27% of the total number of
Q. How does Poland's position compare with restitution programs
legislated by other Eastern
A. According to various international Jewish organizations, Poland lags
behind several other Central and Eastern European countries in efforts
in these matters.
However, we do not believe this comparison changes
anything. Our conclusion is that the succeeding governments of Poland
for time and will continue to do so. The fundamental fact is that all
survivors of WW2 and the Holocaust are
persons. Their children are no longer young. Every year some of them
pass away. Thus every year, the number
persons who could make the claims for recovery / restitution declines.
In addition, as mentioned on the Home page, soon (in 2019) thirty years
will pass since the fall of Communism in Poland. Thirty years is the
duration of the longest statute of limitation period in Poland. We
believe that after this period ends, the statute of limitations will
defeat most, if not all, claims filed after that deadline.
Q. Are there
any additional reasons why we are pessimistic about any general
property restitution laws being enacted in Poland?
A. There are several, namely:
- Poland does not have a tradition of
legal protection of property rights in any way comparable to that in
- Prior to Partitions of Poland, which commenced in 1772,
only a very small part of the population had the right to own
with few exceptions — primarily the nobility (Szlachta).
- During the Partitions of
Poland, and until Poland regained independence in 1918,
the three foreign
powers (Russia, Prussia and Austria) who partitioned and annexed
Poland, frequently confiscated the properties of
patriots as collective punishment.
- During WW2, the Nazis did worse,
their confiscation of all property held by Polish citizens who were
- After WW2, the Communist regime of Poland reversed the Nazi
only to institute its own.
- As a result of the foregoing, Polish
people became used to
the fact that their property rights are not inherent, but at the mercy
- Therefore, public outcry over the
absence of property restitution in Poland is limited.
- The history of dealings, since the
fall of Communism in 1989 to the present time, between
the government of Poland, international Jewish organizations and Polish
organizations (e.g. Union of Real Estate and Property
Owners, Association of Land Owners) is
not encouraging in the least.
- Time works in favor of the Polish
government continuing to delay. The victims of confiscations who are
alive are now elderly persons. A child born before WW2 and a teenager
when WW2 broke out, is 86 years old today.
year some survivors pass away. Thus the number of persons who even
remember enough to able to make a claim declines, within Poland
- Under Polish law, as in
other countries, the
government acquires estates when no heirs present their
In view of all elements
mentioned on this web page, we see at present no realistic alternative
to individual actions by claimants, as a way to recover their
(16): Times of Israel, December
6, 2012 “Poland seen as worst offender on Shoah restitution. Conference
progress, mostly evasion by governments across Central and Eastern
Europe”, reporting in the November 2012 conference on Holocaust
restitution (the Immovable Property Review Conference), organized as a
follow-up to the 2009 Terezin Conference.
(15): Humanity in Action, “Roadblocks to Jewish
Restitution: Poland’s Unsettled Property” 2008, follow
link. (opens new
Central Station by night
By Christoff from Warsaw, Poland via Wikimedia