Historical background: 1939-1945

The issue of property taken over by the Polish State between 1944 and 1962 should be considered against the background of complex historical processes and changes which took place during and immediately after the Second World War.

Historical processes and restitution

Given the size, scope and complexity of these historical processes and changes forcibly imposed on the Polish people, it was impossible to apply one simple formula to all the claims of persons deprived of their property.

The Civil Code of 23 April 1964 and the Code of Administrative Procedure (CAP) of 14 June 1960 as amended by the Law of 31 January 1980 on the Supreme Administrative Court and the Amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedure regulate cases of property seized in breach of the then applicable law.

Shifting of Poland’s borders after World War II

Following World War II, Poland’s borders were radically shifted, which had been de facto recognised by the Allied Powers as early as in 1943 at the Teheran Conference. Under the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, Poland relinquished almost one-half of its pre-war territory to the Soviet Union and was compensated for it by receiving a part of the Eastern erritories of the Third Reich and the area of the Free City of Gdańsk. As a result, Poland’s territory was diminished by approximately 1/5 of its pre-war size.

Population resettlements

The shifting of borders entailed mass population resettlements. From 1944 to 1946, approximately 1.8 million Polish citizens were resettled. Pursuant to relevant agreements signed with the Soviet Republics, Polish citizens were obligated to leave their entire movable and immovable property (except for personal belongings which they could take with them in strictly regulated amounts). Polish civilian population suffered many abuses during the resettlements. The transfer of property on such large scale mandated the enactment of an applicable legal framework by the Polish legislator.

Change of the political and economic system

In analysing the background of ownership changes in Poland, mention should also be made of the change of Poland’s political system to a socialist model that was forcibly imposed on the Polish people and sanctioned by the Western powers. The so-called social ownership was the dominant form of ownership in the socialist political and economic system. Measures intended to adjust the old ownership structure to new guidelines were referred to as “nationalisation” in socialist jurisprudence as early as in the period preceding World War II.

War-time losses

Poland suffered enormous material losses during World War II. According to estimates, about 37 percent of the national property was destroyed. To give an example, industrial property losses are estimated at as high as 60 percent of the pre-war assets, 50 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed and 43 percent of historical substance. Many cities were turned into rubble and smaller towns and villages were destroyed. Warsaw represents a unique and an extremely tragic case. Counted among Warsaw’s losses are 10,455 buildings, including 923 historical structures (94% of the pre-war total), 25 churches, 14 libraries (i.a. the National Library), 145 schools, as well as Warsaw University and Warsaw Technical University. Over a million inhabitants lost all their possessions. Detailed data on private and public property loss, including works of art, cultural heritage and science artefacts is not available. The exact extent of losses of private and public property, including works of art, cultural landmarks and scientific objects, is not known. A historical committee set up in 2004 assessed the total loss at USD 54.6 billion or more (calculated at the 2004 USD/PLN exchange rate). Confronted by the enormous scale of destruction and problems with establishing the legal status of a significant part of real property, the post-war authorities decided that taking over private property was a necessary condition of effectively rebuilding the country.

 

 

Central Europe between 1938 - 1939

Central Europe between 1949 - 1990