Jews agree on return of Polish property

WASHINGTON — A deal between Poland's Jewish community and international Jewish groups has resolved a controversy over how to redistribute communal properties in Poland.

The agreement reached last week provides for the return of 5,500 properties, including schools, synagogues, hospitals, cultural centers and cemeteries, over the next four years through a joint foundation.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland will administer the foundation.

Last year, international Jewish groups and the Polish government agreed to such a foundation, but Polish Jewish leaders later balked at the arrangement.

The agreement, reached after a marathon three-day negotiating session in Poland, marks the last major deal on the return of Jewish communal property in Eastern Europe. Previous agreements have been reached over the last few years on the return of property in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic.

"They realized that [Poland's Jewish leaders] alone cannot reclaim the properties by themselves," said Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the American Federation of Polish Jews. He added that the World Jewish Restitution Organization will provide legal and administrative help in determining what to do with the properties.

The foundation, to be headed by philanthropist Ronald Lauder, will work to preserve Jewish heritage and promote Jewish tradition through educational, religious, social and cultural activities. It will also seek to improve the living conditions of Polish Jews in need of assistance.

Lauder heads another foundation that has been active in recent years rebuilding Jewish life in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland.

Sultanik, who served as chairman of the negotiating session, hailed the agreement as a "major achievement from the point of view of Jewish relations with the Jewish communities of Poland."

Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews live in Poland today.