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    Congressman Smith Calls on US Government to Back Poland’s Request for Talks with Germany on WWII Reparations

    In a compelling plea to address historical injustices and promote reconciliation, US Rep. Chris Smith, Chair of the United States congressional Global Human Rights subcommittee and the Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and of the Congressional Poland Caucus, has called upon the US government to support Poland’s call for discussions with Germany regarding Poland’s significant losses during World War II.

    Rep. Smith, a prominent advocate for human rights worldwide, has long championed the rights of victims of human rights abuses, including the restitution of their property and compensation for their losses. Smith’s commitment to these issues spans several decades, during which he engaged European officials on these matters in various capacities.

    Speaking on the occasion of the anniversary of the start of World War II on September 1st, Rep. Smith expressed deep sorrow over the historical events and emphasized the pressing need to address the ongoing impasse between Poland and Germany concerning compensation for war losses.

    Last year, the Polish government published a comprehensive three-volume War Report detailing its extensive losses during World War II. This report also highlighted Germany’s outstanding obligation to provide compensation. Poland formally requested that Germany engage in discussions to address this matter. Regrettably, the German government responded by deeming the issue ‘closed.’

    The scale of Poland’s losses during the six years of Nazi occupation is staggering. Over 5.2 million Polish citizens perished, many of whom suffered in concentration camps, mass executions, and violent ‘pacifications’ of villages. Additionally, more than 1 million people contracted tuberculosis due to prolonged malnutrition, and over 2 million Polish citizens were subjected to forced labor outside of Poland for nearly three years. Shockingly, approximately 196,000 Polish children were forcibly taken to the Reich and raised as Germans.

    The material destruction was equally immense, with 80 percent of Warsaw’s buildings reduced to rubble. Polish banks, credit institutions, and insurance companies saw their assets looted or destroyed, leaving millions of Polish policyholders without recourse. To date, Germany has not systematically returned stolen assets or provided compensation to Poland for these losses, including cultural objects and artworks.

    Rep. Smith underscored that the War Report represents only nominal payments made to select groups of Poles for their suffering, such as medical experiments and forced labor.

    In this respect the War Report makes painful reading. Only token payments have been made to a small number of Poles for being subject to medical experiments, for forced labor and small other groups that met stringent criteria. Individual Polish victims of Nazism do not even have a forum in which to bring claims against Germany. The German state has made no direct reparations payment to the Polish state nor signed any bilateral compensation agreement with the Polish state – though it has signed bilateral agreements with over a dozen countries and international agreements with some victim groups.

    Rep. Smith said.

    Notably, individual Polish victims of Nazism lack a forum to file claims against Germany, and the German state has made no direct reparations payment to the Polish state.

    Furthermore, the duty of Germany to provide compensation was established by the Potsdam Agreement in 1945, and it remains in effect without expiration. Germany continues to make payments to other victims and negotiates programs to support them annually, yet it refuses to engage in discussions with Poland.

    Rep. Smith reminded that Congress has enacted laws and resolutions since the mid-1990s to promote compensation for groups and restitution to individuals harmed by Nazi Germany, including insurance claims and the recovery of stolen assets.

    Since the mid-1990s Congress has passed laws and resolutions promoting compensation for groups and restitution to individuals damaged by Nazi Germany, including the payment of insurance claims and recovery of stolen art and other assets. I am proud to say I cosponsored many of them. I also chaired a series of hearings on property restitution at the Helsinki Commission, where we heard testimony from many of the heroes fighting for compensation and restitution in central Europe.

    the congressman stressed.

    He also highlighted his active participation in hearings on property restitution at the Helsinki Commission.

    In the spirit of justice, Rep. Smith called for the US government to signal its support for a discussion of the Polish claim against Germany. While the US has not directly participated in bilateral negotiations or endorsed specific valuations or legal arguments in previous settlements between Germany and other claimants, it has consistently encouraged Germany to engage in discussions.

    Rep. Smith concluded by emphasizing that Poland, a nation that suffered immensely under Nazi Germany, should not continue to be one of the least compensated. He urged the US government to stand in solidarity with Poland’s quest for justice and fairness.


    Image credits:

    By OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – https://www.flickr.com/photos/oscepa/14546002211, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74194736

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