Restitution in Poland
After the 2nd World War private property was nationalized in Poland on the basis of various legal acts and administrative decisions. This concerns both private property of individuals and property of joint-stock companies that were founded before the war.
I. Selected legal acts – legal basis for nationalization of private property in Poland
1. Act of 3rd January 1946 on Nationalization of Core Branches of the National Economy (the Polish Nationalization Act)
– Summary of the most important provisions –
The Polish Government took over private enterprises on the basis of the above mentioned Act in the period from the end of the 2nd World War till the end of the fiftieth of the last century. On the one hand Poland nationalized property which belonged to citizens of the Third Reich or to citizens of the former free City of Danzig. The Polish Nationalization Act didn’t provide any compensation for this kind of nationalization.
On the second hand Polish authorities took over private property of enterprises of Polish citizens and foreigners, too. As a legal consequence the former owner should have received compensation in money for lost property. But in most cases any compensation was paid, neither to the former owners nor to their heirs. The nationalization concerned especially companies such as mines, energy and gas companies, waterworks, steel mills, sugar factories and breweries. Furthermore the Polish government took over industrial companies, which were able to employ more than 50 workers during a shift.
The nationalization in mentioned above situations was based on an administrative decisions of the competent Ministry of the Polish government. So for instance the Minister of Internal Trade issued decisions on the takeover of bakeries and mills, the Minister of Light Industry nationalized iron foundries and the Minister of Agriculture was the competent authority for seizure of the property of the confectionery industry in Poland.
2. Decree of 26th October 1945 on Ownership and Usufruct of Land in the Capital City of Warsaw (“Warsaw Decree”)
– Summary of the most important provisions –
On 21st November 1945, the date of entry into force of the Warsaw Decree, all land within the administrative boundaries of the Capital City of Warsaw became the property of Warsaw.
The former owners or their legal successors could submit an application for establishing an perpetual usufruct on the mentioned above land within a period of 6 month from the day of takeover by the municipal authorities of Warsaw. The municipal administration had to consider such an application, when the planned use of the land by the former owners would be coincide with the regulations of the land-use plan in this part of Warsaw. Unfortunately authorities in Warsaw very often rejected the application for establishing the perpetual usufruct made by the former owners. As a legal consequence the buildings on the land became the property of the Capital City of Warsaw, too. In this situation the municipal authorities were obliged to pay a pecuniary compensation to the former owners or their legal successors. But in the most cases there wasn’t any compensation in money.
3. Decree of 6th September 1944 on Agrarian Reform
– Summary of the most important provisions –
After the 2nd World War on the basis of this Decree land in excess of 100 hectares in general or of arable land in excess of 50 hectares was nationalized. This land became the property of the Polish State Treasury. The Decree on Agrarian Reform did not provide an obligation for the payment of a compensation to the former owners of the land.
II. Indemnity agreements concerning nationalized property of foreigners
The nationalization of property executed by the Polish State Treasury did not only concern Polish citizens. After the 2nd World War the Polish Government conclude a range of indemnity agreements both with European countries and the USA and Canada for the seizure of property of private persons as well as of companies. On the basis of these agreements Poland payed to the Contracting Party, for instance to the USA or to the United Kingdom a global sum of several million pounds or dollars as a final settlement of claims concerning foreign property.
III. Overview over the necessary steps in restitution cases
In most cases the owner of property located in Poland and their survived family members left Poland either during the war or after the war in the second half of the forties when the communists came to power in Warsaw. Since the beginning of the year 1990 heirs of these former owners have successfully conducted a lot of restitution cases before Polish authorities and Polish courts.
25 years after the end of the communist regime it’s still possible to get at the very least a compensation in money for lost property in Poland. That’s why it’s worthwhile to deal with the necessary steps to begin a restitution case in Poland.
First of all you should check whether you have documents concerning both the nationalized property and the former owner of the property. Important documents are on the one hand e.g. an (old) extract of the land register and the administrative decision on the basis of which the Polish government took over the property, on the other hand personal documents such as birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates concerning the former owners. For a successful completion of a restitution case in Poland you need all documents which confirm that you are the heir(s) of the former owner.
If you don’t have any documents because they were lost in the war, the matter will be more complicated. In this situation it’s worthwhile when you have some information about the exact location of the property. Then you can get the current number of the land register concerning your property on the basis of an old and present land use plan. Because there is a long period of time, which has passed since the date of nationalization, you should be aware of the fact, that the land could be divided and sold to other persons in the meantime. That’s why you should examine exactly not only the land register but also the land register files – the place, where all original documents concerning the property are kept, like a purchase agreement or a decision on the division of the land.
If your family lost property in Warsaw please check, if you can find an application submitted on time within the mentioned above period of 6 months from the day of takeover. Furthermore, when the authorities rejected the application for establishing an perpetual usufruct, please talk to all available family members whether there is a decision of the Warsaw Government Board of Appeals. Maybe the Board of Appeals declared the rejecting decision invalid. Then the former decision is treated almost as if it did not exist.
If you are able to prove that your family members are former owners of property in Poland, you have to start an inheritance certificate procedure before the local court competent for the property’s location in Poland. After finishing the legal proceedings the court will issue an inheritance certification, on the basis of which you can apply for the change in the land register of your property.
You can complete the above mentioned activities on your own. In this situation there will be a lot of problems you have to solve, e.g. with the Polish language and the Polish law regulations. But there is another possibility: you can contact a law firm, which provides all activities you need for a successful completion of your restitution case in Poland, among other things the representation of your interests before Polish authorities and Polish courts.
IV. Our proposal for a legal advice in your restitution cases
Our attorneys and lawyers can advise and represent you in the following areas:
- preparation of a detailed analysis on property nationalized by the Polish government after World War II (e.g. legal and historical background, legal and administrative acts),
- search for relatives (heirs) of the previous owner of nationalized property in Poland and examination, whether inheritance proceedings are necessary to conduct in Poland (e. g. an inheritance certification procedure),
- search for documents concerning the previous owner of the nationalized property or the founders of a joint-stock company in Public Archives and in Registry Offices in Poland (birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate) for proving legal interest of their inheritance in a restitution case before Polish authorities and Polish courts,
- search for source documents in Public Archives concerning the nationalized property in Poland (e.g. content of the historical land register and the files of the historical land register),
- examination of the current content of the land register and it’s files,
- legal representation before Polish authorities and Polish courts in restitution cases.
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