This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During his May 4-7 visit to Poland Special
Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ambassador Edward O'Donnell
discussed with key Polish officials and leaders of the Jewish
community Poland's ChairmRmQqMQnd
plans for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (MHPJ).
ITC discussions centered on the question of expanding
membership (especially to Ukraine), disputes over
International Tracing Service records (ITS) and the selection
of the next chair. Regarding private property restitution
legislation, O'Donnell emphasized the need for fair and equal
treatment of U.S. citizen owners and the need to consult with
NGOs representing U.S. citizen claimants, especially the
World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). The Polish
side expressed openness to consult with NGOs (including the
WJRO), explained the likely Sejm timetable for the
legislation that foresees passage in late August and noted
that provisions for in rem restitution will be considered in
the sub-committee working on the bill. Jewish community
leaders noted that communal property restitution continues at
a slow pace, with better progress in Warsaw and Lodz, and
presented their position on the controversy surrounding the
Poznan Synagogue. Discussions on MPHJ centered on a recent
visit by U.S. Members of Congress regarding the museum and a
presentation of the museum project. End Summary.
2. (U) During his Warsaw visit, on May 4 O'Donnell met with:
a. Jewish Community: Andrzej Zozula, Deputy Chairman, Union
of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland (ZGZ); Michael
Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland.
b. Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Ireneusz Kotarski, Advisor to
the Minister; Karel Francapane, ITC staffer.
c. Polish Parliament (Sejm): Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz,
Chairman, Committee on State Treasury.
d. Museum of the History of Polish Jews (meeting on May 6):
Jerzy Halbersztadt, Project Director; Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka,
Director for Development; Agnieszka Rudnicka, Deputy Director
O'Donnell also took part in the March of the Living at the
site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp on May 5 and
attended a Shabbat dinner sponsored by the U.S.
Anti-Defamation League in Warsaw on May 6.
International Holocaust Education Task Force
3. (SBU) The dominant point of discussion on ITC was the
question of adding new members. Kotarski explained that
Poland "wants to enlarge ITC as much as possible," especially
in regard to countries that were once in the USSR, especially
Ukraine and Belarus (Ref A). While Poland wants to invite
Ukraine to join soon, membership for Belarus under the
Lukashenko regime Kotartski mused, despite cooperation
between Polish and Belarusian NGOs on Holocaust education,
would be very unlikely. Francapane noted that both Slovakia
and Croatia had declared their interest in membership, but
had not yet taken concrete steps in this direction.
O'Donnell stated that the Croatian Minister of Education had
confirmed Croatian interest to him. O'Donnell added that
Belgium was also a candidate and was taking steps to meet the
4. (C) Francapane pointed out that there was a discussion in
the ITC as to what position to take on new members. He said
that the Israeli government, in particular key Israeli MFA
official Nimrod Barkan, strongly supported raising the bar
for membership. Barkan told Fracapane that the ITC should
"not be seen as a respectable club that diplomats just try to
get into for political reasons" but as a group of countries
truly dedicated to excellence in Holocaust education.
O'Donnell responded that at some point there would be a limit
to growth, as it was difficult to imagine that all 55 members
of the OSCE would become members of the ITC. Kotarski
agreed, in theory, that at some point membership may need to
be limited, but added that this time was far in the future.
5. (C) Turning to the discussion of access to records held by
the International Tracing Service (ITS), Francapane stated
that the French government would put forward a compromise
proposal that would lead to full access and copying of ITS
documents. He added, and O'Donnell agreed, that the German
position against calls for increased access was unhelpful.
Francapane urged that the time to reach an agreement was now,
before the upcoming meeting on ITS in Rome.
6. (C) Fracapane stated that the main candidates to succeed
Poland as ITC chair were Hungary, the Czech Republic and
possibly Israel. He declared that Hungary was not the best
candidate due to lack of progress on certain aspects of
Holocaust Education and the minute role of the Hungarian MFA
in Holocaust Education. He added, however, that the Hungary
was actively pursuing the chairmanship. Francapne believed
that the Czech Republic would be a better candidate, a
position that Kotarski supported noting the Czech Republic's
good contacts with Ukrainian NGOs, but the Czechs need to
energize their campaign. Fracapane added that he had
received a signal from Israel that it was considering making
a run for the chairmanship. O'Donnell replied that the U.S.
had not yet taken a position on the next chair and noted that
we were unaware of Israeli interest in the chairmanship.
Private Property Restitution
7. (SBU) O'Donnell emphasized to Marcinkiewicz, whose Sejm
committee is now working on legislation that would provide 15
percent cash compensation for nationalized property (Ref B),
that the U.S. supports equal and fair treatment of U.S.
citizen owners who had their property nationalized.
O'Donnell stressed the need for consultations with NGOs that
represent U.S. citizen owners, notably the WJRO. He added
that the WJRO has been critical of the legislation in the
Sejm because it contains no provision for in rem restitution
and it believes the 15 percent amount to be too low. He
explained that while the U.S. does not support a specific
rate of compensation, it is important that this rate be large
enough to bring closure to the private property issue.
8. (SBU) Marcinkiewicz responded that he had met with the
WJRO in the past and was open to further consultations with
them. He emphasized, however, that the WJRO and other U.S.
NGOs should also present their concerns to the Democratic
Left Alliance (SLD), which remained the largest Sejm
parliamentary club and could play a key role in supporting
the changes the WRJO wants (especially in rem restitution).
Marcinkiewicz informed that his committee had just completed
forming a sub-committee, chaired by Law and Justice (PiS) MP
Marek Suski, that would work on the private property bill and
a bill providing compensation to "Easterners" (i.e. Polish
citizens who lost property when Poland's eastern border was
moved west at the end of World War II). He expected the
sub-committee to finish its work by mid-June, after which the
Sejm would vote on the modified bills and they would be sent
for Senate approval. Barring a rejection by the Sejm or
floor amendments, Marcinkiewicz predicted that the final Sejm
vote would take place in August, which would allow President
Kwasniewski to sign the bill into law before
September/October parliamentary elections. Marcinkiewicz
predicted that some of the modifications being considered in
the bill, such as the possibility of limited in rem
restitution, could generate significant controversy in the
9. (C) O'Donnell expressed satisfaction that limited in rem
would be considered, as this is the top issue for the WJRO.
He added that consideration of a higher rate of compensation
would also be good news. He further informed that, according
to State Department records, the 1960 compensation agreement
between the U.S. and Poland provided compensation at a rate
of approximately 30 percent for U.S. citizens who had been
owners at the time of nationalization. O'Donnell emphasized
that this was a point of information, not a U.S. suggestion
as to what the rate should be in the Polish law.
Marcinkiewicz responded that while he could not make firm
promises, his committee was examining closely the Finance
Ministry's estimates on resources for compensation and
expected "that as usual Finance took a pessimistic view,"
which would allow the Sejm to consider a rate above 15
10. (C) Zozula and Schudrich (protect both) described the
compensation bill as "something that no one is happy with."
While noting that the ZGZ took no official position on
private property restitution, Zozula stated that 15 percent
compensation was so low that it satisfied no one. It was his
understanding that there is a rough consensus among
organizations representing former owners that a compensation
rate of 50 percent was the minimum that they would be willing
to consider. O'Donnell asked about recent press reports on
an Israeli government report estimating the value of former
Jewish private property in Poland to be USD 36 billion.
Zozula said that this number was "so fantastic that no one
took it seriously."
Communal Property Restitution
11. (SBU) Zozula and Schudrich informed that communal
property restitution continued, but at a slow pace. Giving
the GOP the benefit of the doubt, Schudrich stated that the
pace of Jewish communal religious property restitution was
approximately the same as that of restitution of property to
the Catholic Church, although the Catholics started earlier.
He added, however, that the situation of Poland's small
Jewish community was much different than that of the Catholic
Church in Poland, and that the community did not have the
financial resources to carry meet its needs furing the time
it took for restitution. Zozula summed up the situation
stating that "for the Jewish community communal property
restitution is perhaps not a question of survival, but a
question of financial independence." They both complained
that the joint Jewish-community/GOP regulatory commission
that decides cases is averse to making unpopular decisions to
12. (SBU) Zozula emphasized that the attitude of local
government played a significant role in the pace of
restitution. He added, "surprisingly we have had more
success with cities where the right is in power," and pointed
to good cooperation on restitution with Warsaw Mayor Lech
Kaczynski and Lodz Mayor Jerzy Kropiwnicki as particular
examples. Zozula added that conservative local authorities
tended to view communal restitution as a question of carrying
out the law, while the post-communist left local officials
were more inclined to see it as a question of the loss of
real estate and, thereby, a reduction of their power.
13. (SBU) Schudrich raised the issue of the Poznan Synagogue,
which he said was receiving increasing attention in the U.S.
He explained that the Jewish Community fully supported the
WielkopolQi (Poznan) Governor's recent rejection of a motion
to have the synagogue declared a historic building was
supported fully by the Jewish community. According to
Schudrich, the Nazis, who transformed the building into a
swimming pool, had so changed the building that it no longer
resembled the original. Historic status would have made it
more difficult and expensive for the Poznan Jewish community
(to which the synagogue was restituted in 2003) to make any
modifications to the building.
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
14. (U) Halbersztadt and Junczyk-Ziomecka showed O'Donnell a
slide presentation about MHPJ and noted that approximately a
quarter of the permanent exhibit at the museum will be
devoted to the Holocaust. They briefed on the recent visit
by four U.S. Members of Congress to Poland to discuss the
project (Ref C). They noted that the members were preparing
a Congressional resolution supporting MHPJ and expressed the
hope that USG funding will be provided for MHPJ.
March of the Living
15. (U) On May 5, Ambassadors O'Donnell and Daniel Kurtzer
as well as Krakow Consul General Ken Fairfax represented the
USG at the March of the Living, an annual event that retraces
the "Path of Death" taken by prisoners at the Nazi Auschwitz
Death Camp. The march is targeted toward youth and it serves
the dual purpose of honoring the victims of the Holocaust and
working to prevent genocides by advocating tolerance and
understanding. This year's march was the largest to date,
with 21,000 participants, including 7,000 youths from the
U.S. and Canada. Polish PM Belka, Israeli PM Sharon and
Hungarian PM Gyurcsany were the featured speakers at the
16. (C) O'Donnell's visit was an excellent opportunity to
review of our Holocaust issues agenda with Poland and came at
a exceptionally appropriate time given progress of private
property legislation in the Sejm and Poland's ITC
chairmanship. Marcinkiewicz's signal that the Sejm will
consider in rem restitution or an increase in the
compensation rate is welcome news. The apparent divergence
between Poland and Israel on expanding ITC membership is also
noteworthy, as is a somewhat less pessimistic view of
communal property restitution by the Jewish community than
that which has been presented in the past.
17. (U) This cable was cleared by Special Envoy for
Holocaust Issues Edward O'Donnell.
2005WARSAW02265 - Classification: CONFIDENTIAL