Nationalization after WW2

After World War II, nationalisation of private property was a common practice. It was also resorted to by highly industrialised countries with high standards applied to the protection of private ownership. France nationalised factories of Renault, Gaz de France and Electricité de France, the UK did the same with its coal mines and iron and steel works. Italy kept ENI (gas and oil industry) which had been nationalised under the fascist regime. After World War II, almost all countries nationalised their railways. Countries which later became part of the Eastern Bloc – Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, the German Democratic Republic and Poland – nationalized private property on a massive scale, not limiting themselves to the industry sector. How did the then existing norms of international law address these issues? According to most international law experts, at that time states had full discretion to set the conditions under which they nationalised the property of their citizens. Hence, governments had the right to take over private property – even without paying compensation. This view was construed from the principle of sovereignty and autonomy of states as subjects of international law. Let us bear in mind that the human rights protection system as we know it today was not a familiar concept of international law at that time. Persons who were not citizens of a country that nationalised property were in a different situation. Such acts were regarded as an indirect violation of the interests of the state whose citizens were deprived of their property, even though such property was physically located in the state that seized the property. The principle of sovereignty was construed as imposing a duty on the state that has nationalised the property of foreign citizens to compensate such states. Those states could, but were not obliged to pay such compensation to the individuals who had lost their property.

In view of the above circumstances, the Polish government entered into the so-called indemnity agreements during the 1948-1971 period with a number of countries whose citizens had been affected by the consequences of private property seizure. These agreements provided for specific amounts of compensation for citizens of those countries whose property was nationalized by the Polish State. Countries which entered into these agreements with Poland assumed responsibility for the payment of such compensation. These agreements released Poland from any obligation under international law for the seizure of property previously owned by foreign citizens. The procedure for claiming damages is regulated solely by the domestic law of the aforementioned states.

The content of all indemnity agreements may be found here.



Sums agreed 


3.8m tonnes of coal (1948) worth USD 65m


DKK 5.7m

Switzerland (and Lichtenstein)

CHF 53.5m


SEK 116m


GBP 5.4m


Mutual offset of Polish assets in Norway and Norwegian assets in Poland


USD 40m

Belgium (and Luxemburg)

BEF 600m


USD 230,000


NLG 9m


ATS 71.5m


CAD 1.2m