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The protest against compensating Jews for property lost during the second world war in Warsaw on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Thousands in Poland protest against US Holocaust compensation law

  • Protesters, who included far-right groups, said US government is putting ‘Jewish interests’ over the interests of Poland
Thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the US embassy in Warsaw on Saturday, protesting that the US is putting pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust.

The protesters, who included far-right groups and their supporters, said the United States has no right to interfere in Polish affairs and the US government is putting “Jewish interests” over the interests of Poland.

People at the protest in Warsaw. Photo: Reuters

Poland was a major victim of Germany during the second world war and those protesting said it is not fair to ask Poland to compensate Jewish victims when Poland has never received adequate compensation from Berlin.

“Why should we have to pay money today when nobody gives us anything?” said 22-year-old Kamil Wencwel. “Americans only think about Jewish and not Polish interests.”

The protesters shouted “No to claims!” and “This is Poland, not Polin,” using the Hebrew word for Poland.

One couple wore matching T-shirts reading “Death to the enemies of the fatherland,” while another man wore a shirt saying: “I will not apologise for Jedwabne” – a massacre of Jews by their Polish neighbours in 1941 during the German occupation.

People at the protest in Warsaw. Photo: AP

Among those far-right politicians who led the march were Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Grzegorz Braun, who have joined forces in a far-right coalition standing in the elections to the European Parliament later this month. Stopping Jewish restitution claims has been one of their key priorities, along with fighting what they call pro-LGBT “propaganda”. The movement is polling well with young Polish men.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki echoed the feelings of the protesters at a campaign rally on Saturday, saying it is Poles who deserve compensation.

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Poland was the heartland of European Jewish life before the Holocaust, with most of the Polish Jews killed by occupying Nazi forces. Christian Poles were also targeted by the Germans, killed in massacres and in concentration camps.

Many Poles to this day have a feeling their suffering has not been adequately acknowledged by the world, while that of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust has, creating what has often been called a “competition of victimhood”.

People at the protest in Warsaw. Photo: Reuters

Many of the properties of both Jews and non-Jews were destroyed during the war or were looted and later nationalised by the communist government that followed.

The protests in Warsaw targeted US law S. 447 known as the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (or JUST) Act. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump last year and requires the State Department to report to Congress on the state of restitution of property stolen in the Holocaust in dozens of countries.

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Protesters said paying compensation would ruin Poland’s economy.

Jewish organisations have been seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors and their families, considering compensation a matter of justice.

Saturday’s protest began with a rally in front of the prime minister’s office before the protesters walked to the US embassy.

The protest in Warsaw on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Men in Native American headdress held a banner with a message pointing to what they see as US double standards: “USA, Practice 447 at home. Return stolen lands to the descendants of native tribes.”

The US State Department’s envoy on anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, was in Warsaw last week. He said the US recognises that Poland was a victim of the war and is not dictating how Warsaw regulates compensation.