Being able to recover the property which once belonged to your family is an essential freedom which should be respected in any democratic society. After the changes in Poland in 1989 it is now possible to remedy some unlawful decisions taken in the past, especially in the period 1945-1956. If your family held a property in Warsaw and lost it according to the Bierut’s decree of 1945, possibilities are now open to raise your claims.

What exactly are the chances to recover your family property in Warsaw? (NB: legal situation of the Warsaw properties is different than the rest of Poland due to the Bierut’s decree)

Some important points to note are:
  • It needs to investigated whether your grandfather (or someone acting on his behalf) filed the motion for the so-called “temporary ownership” to be granted to him by the municipality and whether this motion was filed within 6 months from the announcement of the decree. Officially, the dispossessed ex-owners of the confiscated properties were supposed to obtain another property in another location provided they filed a motion in this respect within 6 months. In practice, all these motions were refused. The source documents concerning a property in question (provided that we know the exact address) can be found in the files held by the Warsaw municipality or by the Warsaw court.
  • If the motion had been filed in accordance with the law and if this motion was refused or rejected (and practically the authorities had no grounds to turn it down legally), then the heirs of the dispossessed ex-owner of the confiscated property can file an application to declare the refusal or rejection invalid. Then, upon receiving a decision on invalidation of the refusal, the heirs are becoming entitled to claim their property back provided that the property still is held (from the formal point of view) by the municipality. If the property was sold earlier, the heirs can only claim monetary compensation. The current practice is that most of the refusals are being declared invalid which opens for the heirs the way to get their property back.
  • When the heirs have already obtained the decision on invalidation of the refusal, then they can apply to the Warsaw municipality for the return of the property (if the Warsaw municipality is still the formal owner).
  • The current trend is that, upon receiving an application which is filed by legitimate heirs of the dispossessed ex-owner, the municipality is issuing a decision on the return of property. If the property was sold earlier and the municipality is not the formal owner of the property, then the heirs can only claim monetary compensation.
  • One of the biggest headache for foreigners (especially for the heirs who live in countries like Israel or the US) is to obtain from the Polish court the decision on inheritance. This often requires documents from the period 1939-45 which either did not exist or were destroyed. Sometimes we are requested by the court to do the query in the archives or historical registers.

Example: - Samuel Singer and his wife Hannah were the proud owners of the delightful 6-floor house at Sienna street in Warsaw. They had three children – Sarah, Moshe and David. When the war broke in 1939 the entire family was forced to move to the Warsaw ghetto. The family died in the ghetto in 1943 during the Ghetto Uprising and the only survivor was David Singer. In 1945 the house at Sienna was taken over by the authorities accordingly to the Bierut’s decree. In February 1946 David Singer filed the motion for the so-called “temporary ownership” to be granted to him by the municipality but he has never received any response. In 1950 David Singer emigrated to Israel. By the time of his departure, the motion which he filed in 1946, was not considered. David’s motion was finally considered in 1970. The authorities decided to refuse the so-called “temporary ownership” to be granted to David without giving any reason. David Singer died in 1969 and left one daughter - Judith. In 2010 the Warsaw municipality started selling flats in the house at Sienna. Out of 100 flats they sold 10 flats and then the municipality was notified that there are claims from the heirs of the pre-war owners so they stopped selling the flats. What are the claims available to Judith?

Judith can apply for the decision which would declare the refusal given to his father David Singer invalid. Due to the fact the motion for the so-called “temporary ownership” was filed on time (within 6 months from the decree’s announcement) Judith can apply for the return of the house at Sienna street. Naturally Judith has to prove to the Warsaw municipality that she is the heir to David Singer (this would be an Israeli court matter) and that David Singer is in turn the heir to Samuel and Hannah Singer (this would be a Polish court matter).

The Warsaw municipality can only return 9/10 of the house because 1/10 (i.e. 10 flats) had been already sold. This could be a matter of compensation between the heirs and the municipality.

Anyone who finds himself in a similar position would do well to take advice on the chances to recover what was lost.

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