Interesting article. It may be slightly off topic, but I think it will be
of interest to some members.
Barb Soja Revoet
_Polish nobility fight to reclaim seized property - CNN.com_
Polish nobility fight to reclaim seized property
By Frederik Pleitgen for CNN
July 5, 2010 8:29 a.m. EDT
* The Sobanskis had their property confiscated by communists after
World War II
* Count Michal Sobanski is now on a mission to claim compensation
from the government
* He says he needs $8 million to make the palace habitable again
after it was left to rot
Warsaw, Poland (CNN) -- Count Michal Sobanski often drives his 15-year-old
Volvo from his home in Warsaw to the tiny town of Guzow about an hour
outside Poland's capital.
He visits an old palace, a ruin that could almost be the set for a horror
movie. But the palace from the 19th century is the Sobanski family manor.
The 30-room building was once the home of Sobanski's grand father.
"We used to have mirrors all over the walls and lovely paintings," he says
as he walks through the now decrepit rooms.
The palace was taken away from the family after the communists took over in
Poland after World War II, the Sobanski were ordered to leave immediately
and could only take a few of their most valued possessions.
"Our family owned almost everything around here," Sobanski says, "a park,
acres of forest and a sugar factory. My grandfather even built several
churches in this area."
The Sobanski's did not get their palace back after the fall of communism.
Instead they had to buy it back from the Polish government. Under Polish
law disowned families can only get compensation for property taken by the
communists if the belongings were taken away illegally under the laws of
Sobanski says he feels left alone by the Polish government."The politicians
do not want to touch the matter, they fear backlash from many voters."
The Sobankis are not alone. All over Poland families are fighting to get
back property that was taken away from them at some point in history.
There are no exact numbers, but the claims must go into the billions says
Krzysztof Jamrozik, a lawyer who deals with the reprivatization matter in
Warsaw. "It is a huge sum. We have about ten thousand cases in Warsaw alone
and it is impossible to calculate how many there are in the whole country."
The situation is as complicated as Poland's history: When the Nazis invaded
Poland in 1939 they evicted the Jews and many Poles and took their
belongings away. After the end of the war Poland's territory was shifted westward.
Germans living in the West were thrown off their land to make room for
Poles who lost their land in the East. Finally, the communists nationalized
almost all privately owned land under and agricultural reform.
"But it goes even further than that," Lawyer Krzysztof Jamrozik says,
"Pharmacies, stores, ships, cars, almost everything was redistributed under the
new leadership. It is almost impossible to untangle all of that."
In some cases the government pays out compensation and in a few things turn
out well. The Jewish community in the city of Wroclaw in the Lower Silesia
Voivodeship has just finished refurbishing their Synagogue.
Bente Kahan an industrious singer and activist from Norway fell in love
with Wroclaw years ago and took up the huge task of trying to finance the
renovation of the building which was a ruin when it was given back to the Jews
in the 90s.
"The place didn't even have a roof," she says as she walked through the
main prayer room which currently hosts an exhibition about Jewish life in
Wroclaw. "We got some money from a European fund called EEA, some private
donations and some from the public hand. The city of Wroclaw was very helpful as
Count Michael Sobanski received some money from the Polish culture ministry
to rebuild his palace. It is not nearly enough to renovate the place and
now he is looking for private investors to turn the palace and the
surrounding park into an upscale hotel and retreat.
Sobanski says he needs about $8 million to make it happen and he will
continue to fight until he sees the palace restored to its old glory again.
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