In a surprise legal development that could impact on the Bush administration, a Manhattan federal appeals court last week quietly breathed new life into potential billion-dollar class-action lawsuits by Holocaust survivors against the governments of Poland and Austria over the loss of their property during and after World War II.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned a Brooklyn federal judge's June 2002 decision to dismiss the case "Garb vs. Poland" on the grounds that Poland was protected by sovereign immunity.
U.S. Jewish organizations have joined Polish government and Jewish community leaders in denouncing the volatile language in a property lawsuit that accuses Poland of a pattern of ethnic cleansing of Jews after World War II. One Polish newspaper editor attacked the lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court as "a priceless gift for anti-Semites in Poland." The round of criticism comes as Polish legislators began summer vacation after drafting landmark legislation to return private property seized from Polish citizens by the Nazis or the Communists more than 55 years ago.
U.S. officials are condemning as “discriminatory” a draft bill by Poland’s parliament that would block Holocaust survivors from reclaiming billions of dollars in private property confiscated by the Nazis and Communists 50 years ago.
The proposed legislation by Poland’s Sejm, or lower house of parliament, would restrict property claims to Polish citizens who have lived in the country for the last five years — effectively barring claims from Jewish and non-Jewish Polish survivors, or their heirs, now living in America or elsewhere.
Taking another step in a lengthy process, the Polish cabinet last weekend approved a draft bill outlining the conditions for restitution for those whose private property was seized by the Nazis and communists.
The bill must be sent to parliament, where debate is expected to be fierce.
Polish lawmakers this week began wrestling with a long-delayed World War II property restitution plan, only weeks after 11 Jews filed an unprecedented federal lawsuit in Brooklyn against the Republic of Poland seeking the return of property seized from their families during the Holocaust.
Under a $5.14 billion settlement reached Tuesday with Germany, Nazi slave laborers are expected to receive a one-time payment of about $10,000 in as early as six months, according to an attorney for many of the Jewish victims.
The settlement was reached after yearlong talks between the German government and German industry, and Jewish groups and victims' lawyers.
A request to charge $1,500 for reading the book "Nazi Gold" is contained in a court document from lawyers of Holocaust victims who are seeking $13.5 million in fees from the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement, according to the World Jewish Congress.
"Holocaust survivors are being exploited by a feeding frenzy of fee-grabbing lawyers," charged WJC executive director Elan Steinberg.