UKMW prompts Indy to correct Robert Fisk’s claim on Nazi-confiscated Jewish properties in Poland

Contrary to Robert Fisk's claim, Polish Jews do not have a "right" to “take back Nazi-confiscated property.” Following communication with UK Media Watch, editors at The Independent upheld our complaint and revised the sentence accordingly.

Robert Fisk’s June 14th column at the Independent (“I spoke to Palestinians who still hold the keys to homes they fled decades ago – many are still determined to return”) includes the following claim:

“Polish law gives former Jewish citizens the right to take back Nazi-confiscated property.”

The claim is important, because it’s meant to contrast this alleged Jewish ‘right’ with the failure of Israel to grant similar rights to Palestinians who lost property during the 1948 War.

However, Fisk is wrong. 

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), a group which “negotiates with national governments in Eastern and Central Europe for the return of Jewish communal property and heirless private property and the payment of full compensation in cases where restitution is not possible”, writes the following about Poland:

Poland is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc that has taken no action to return private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the Communist regime.”

Further, a recent New York Times article highlights how attempts by heirs of confiscated Jewish property, through private lawsuits in Polish courts, to get financial restitution take years and have proven largely unsuccessful.  The article notes that Poland is currently considering restitution legislation but, even if passed, would only allow for financial compensation, and would include onerous requirements to prove eligibility – like proof of Polish citizenship. Such requirements, said the chairman of the WJRO, would “exclude virtually all Holocaust survivors.” 

There’s no proposal being considered which would allow Jews to actually reclaim or “take back Nazi-confiscated property.”

We contacted Indy editors regarding the claim, and, after two weeks, they eventually upheld our complaint and revised the sentence to more accurately note that though Jewish citizens of Poland may “seek” restitution for Nazi-confiscated property in the courts, they do not have the right to take back the actual property, as Fisk claims.

Here’s the revised sentence: 

Polish law gives former Jewish citizens the right to seek restitution for Nazi-confiscated property.

Though the correction is a substantive one, we should note that it’s still a bit misleading, as it implies that Jews have a special “right” to seek restitution. They do not. Their right to sue is the same right granted to all Polish citizens.

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