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In an unprecedented move, the City of Warsaw is releasing 2,600 homes to survivors of the Holocaust from Poland and their heirs - including the many that now live in Australia - but there's a catch: it's only for a very limited period of time.
Nitza Lowenstein

8 Dec 2016 - 5:13 PM  UPDATED 16 Dec 2016 - 12:18 PM

A recently passed Polish law gives claimants six months to file claims for 2,613 properties in Warsaw which changed ownership as a result of World War II. 

Many of the properties are believed to have been Jewish-owned before the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Magali Kaplan, manager of the Holocaust support program Jewish Care Victoria told SBS: "My understanding is that there is a new law about Warsaw property, that has been developed by the Polish government."

"And with the assistance of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. They have been able to identify over 2,000 claimants whose property may be available for submitting the claim against, through the Polish government”.

The law came into effect in September and is this first of it's kind in Poland, which is the only EU country to not yet have passed a national law to return property to Holocaust survivors or those dispossessed by war or the communism regime. 

Notably, if a claimant fails to file a claim before the short six months deadline he or she will have permanently relinquished ownership over the property under the new law.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) which aims to reunite Holocaust survivors with their repossessed belongings, has created a database to help survivors or their heirs reclaim property in Warsaw, before the deadline.

Kaplan explains that, "the Warsaw database only had the address list."

The property's owners were not identifiable from this address list alone, nor were they being contacted as part of the offer - which requires the claimants to come forward themselves. This is where the WJRO has stepped in to help identify the many Jewish families who may be the rightful owners. 

"The World Jewish Restitution Organization matched the street addresses with property owners," explains Kaplan.

"They were able to match addresses with names, with the help of old phone directory for Warsaw." 

Where the old directories were not useful, they have also investigated mortgage information from the time. 

“There is now a very limited opportunity for some kind of justice for people who suffered so much” Ms Kaplan told SBS.

She also urges the many survivors and their descendants in Australia to visit the website which contains the data release.  

Holocaust survivors have faced difficulties reclaiming lost property since World War II. Reclaiming property was impossible for decades while Poland was under Communist rule, and successful cases of restitution of property have only come after long and complicated legal proceedings.

The process of restitution is further complicated for survivors or their heirs who no longer live in Poland.

Poland was home to 3.3 million Jews before the Holocaust, the majority of whom perished under the occupying Nazi regime.

Listen to the full interview (in English) with Magali Kaplan on SBS Hebrew Radio, below:

Magali Kaplan: "First time ever, Holocaust survivors can claim properties in Warsaw"

Polish government passed legislation to enable people to file claims for property in Warsaw A recently passed Polish law gives claimants six months to file claims for more than 2,600 properties in Warsaw which changed ownership as a result of World War 2. 

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