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US rabbis voice support for Poland’s WWII reparations claim

Rabbi Art Vernon says Poland's WWII reparation claim is understandable

Representatives of the North American Board of Rabbis (NABOR) have told PAP that from a moral point of view, Poland’s claim for war reparations from Germany needs to be resolved.

On September 1, 2022, the Polish government presented a comprehensive report detailing the material losses suffered by Poland during the Second World War along with a pledge to demand money from Germany in reparations to the tune of EUR 1.3 trillion. 

The German Foreign Ministry has rejected Poland’s claims and stated the matter is closed and that the German government would not enter into negotiations on the subject.

Berlin reiterates its position that the Polish communist government had already waived all reparations claims against Germany, but the Polish government says at that Poland was at that time under Soviet influence and was unable to make sovereign decisions. Warsaw adds that the waiving of reparations has no proof in formal documentation and the then government’s declaration was forced upon Poland in order to lift the economic burden from Moscow’s former communist ally, East Germany.

Rabbi Art Vernon from Long Island, one of the representatives of a NABOR delegation visiting Poland, told PAP the claim was understandable and important to the Polish government and nation as a whole, but that whether Poland would be successful in its efforts was a political issue.

Rabbi Vernon said NABOR treated the reparations claim as a moral issue but also one of strength, self-confidence and of Poland regaining its agency and history, which he said were good signs regardless of the outcome.

He said he was expressing a personal opinion rather than that of America’s Jewish population as a whole, but that he well understood Warsaw’s motivation in claiming damages from Germany.

The rabbi said that following the end of World War II, there was no Polish government capable of achieving anything for the country. The Russians were in control, he said, and for many decades Poles were powerless in the matter. Hence, he argued, it was no surprise that now Poland has a proper government, it is making use of its first real opportunity to claim damages from Berlin.

Vernon said the American rabbis had received a copy of Poland’s war damages report during their study visit to Poland organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though he had not yet had a chance to study it in full.

Another NABOR delegate, Rabbi Steven Graber, also from Long Island, said that although 78 years had passed since the end of the war and Poland and Germany are now EU and Nato partners, the events of the war could not be forgotten. 

According to Lance Sussman, a retired rabbi from Philadelphia, the reparations issue is difficult due to history and the role of the Soviet Union, which controlled East Germany and as such did not want damages to be paid. But Germany must once again reckon with the Russian threat following the invasion of Ukraine, Sussman said. He argued that on the one hand historical problems had to be resolved, but on the other, countries needed to cooperate in order to counter Russian aggression.

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