Before the Holocaust, Nate Taffel’s family owned the biggest house in Radomyśl Wielki, a small town in southeastern Poland. His father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather were farmers. His family lost everything in the Holocaust. More than 30 members of his family, including his mother, father, seven sisters and two brothers, were murdered. Only Nate and his brother survived.
Nate came to the United States 10 years after being liberated and joined his bother in Milwaukee. He married and had three children. Now 91, Nate worked for the livestock business for 72 years.
Even though Nate was only a child when the war broke out in Poland, he has fond memories of his life before the war.
In fact, Poland had been a center of Jewish life for a thousand years. Polish Jews owned homes, businesses and land. Those who survived the Holocaust lost all of their earthly possessions.
Their property that was stolen during the Holocaust and later nationalized by the Polish Communist regime is the only remaining physical connection they have to generations of their families’ lives in Poland.
That is why the struggle for property restitution is so important to Holocaust survivors and their families.
And that is why it was meaningful for survivors when the United States Senate last week issued a resounding call for justice in a bipartisan letter signed by nearly all of the U.S. Senate — 88 senators — and sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The senators urged him to “act boldly and with urgency” to encourage Poland to resolve the issue of private property restitution to Holocaust victims.
The letter was organized by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who have been key leaders on this issue. All senators running for president signed the letter, as did the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
The letter states, “Now is the time, while the last Holocaust survivors are still alive, to back up our words with meaningful action. We encourage you to pursue bold initiatives to help Poland to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
As Sen. Baldwin said, “Time is of the essence. We must act quickly so that the remaining survivors still among us can receive a small measure of justice for the materials losses while living out their remaining years with the dignity they deserve.”
In the letter, the senators commended Secretary Pompeo for his public statement this February in Warsaw in support of this issue. In a press conference with Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Jacek Czaputowicz, during his first official visit to Poland as U.S. Secretary of State, Pompeo said: “We also appreciate the importance of resolving outstanding issues of the past, and I urge my Polish colleagues to move forward with comprehensive private property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust era.”
Sadly, Poland is the only European Union country that has not passed such a law. The Senate letter articulates clearly the strong support of the U.S. Senate for justice for Holocaust survivors from Poland, as well as other Jews and non-Jews whose property was nationalized by the Polish Communist government after the war.
This follows unanimous passage by Congress last year of important legislation of the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. This law — written by Sens. Baldwin and Rubio – requires the State Department to submit a report to Congress on the status of restitution throughout Europe by the end of the year.
The U.S. Senate has sent a powerful message to Poland: More than seven decades years after the Holocaust and nearly three decades after Poland’s liberation from communism, it is high time that Poland address this historical injustice and return or provide property compensation to Holocaust survivors like Nate, for what was wrongfully taken from them.
Gideon Taylor is chair of operations with the World Jewish Restitution Organization.