Jews in Warsaw rounded up by the Nazis in 1940

Holocaust descendant says Polish Church “stole” family land, history

An Australian descendant of Holocaust survivors is denouncing that the Catholic Church in Poland stole her family’s land, only to later accuse her of “forging” documents to “unlawfully swindle compensation” when she tried to reclaim the property.

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The Guardian reported Saturday on the story of Ann Drillich, a Melbourne doctor who for over thirty years has been trying to reclaim the land in Tarnów that belonged to her mother, Blanka Drillich née Goldman, who lost the rest of her family in the Holocaust.

In 1987, Jerzy Poetschke, a member of the family that hid Blanka from the Nazis, betrayed the power of attorney over the Goldman estate that Blanka had left him when she left for Australia after the war.

Poetschke sold half of the 8,500 square-metre “abandoned” Goldman family estate he had acquired through “squatter’s rights”, and donated the other half to the Church, which promptly built a temple on the land.

Drillich discovered the betrayal only in 2010 through a public records search.

But far from providing closure, the discovery was the beginning of a protracted court battle with the powerful Polish Church and State.

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Go deeper

“At first it took a while to settle in, the shock of the betrayal”, Drillich told The Guardian.

“And the idea that behind the injustice is a church.

“My mother’s family was one of the most prominent in town. It was like they had stolen not just our land, but my family’s history”.

Drillich sued the Tarnów Church authorities to get the land back.

In 2016, the courts ruled in her favour, deciding the Church had acted in “bad faith” when it acquired the Goldman family estate.

But in 2017, the Church complained to the district prosecutor in Tarnów that Drillich acted dishonestly in trying to claim compensation.

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Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) later came to the Church’s aid, launching through Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro – also the country’s prosecutor-general – an “extraordinary appeal” to the courts to overturn the verdict in Drillich’s favour.

Commenting on the government intervention, Polish-Australian law expert Wojciech Sadurski said Drillich’s case is “too trivial and technical… to qualify as a matter of ‘social justice'”: the normal excuse the Polish executive branch gives for interfering in judicial matters.

Sadurski said PiS became involved because “the case is important for the church — and the politicians need the support of the Church to stay in power. I think it’s as simple as that”.

It’s just the latest proof of how the Polish Church has become a powerful ally of the far-right, ultranationalist PiS, on everything from LGBT+ oppression to denying restitution to Jewish Holocaust survivors.

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What’s next

“If I won [the case], I’d want an apology, I’d want compensation and genuine reconciliation”, Drillich said to The Guardian.

“I would not be looking to demolish the church”.

In her fight for recognition, Drillich has taken her claim to Australian politicians and bishops, who refuse to help her.

She has also written to the Vatican ambassador in Poland, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, to encourage him to correct the Polish bishops and to remind him that antisemitism is contrary to the teaching of Pope Francis.

“My family has been defamed in the Polish media and subjected to antisemitic abuse on social media, which includes tropes such as ‘blood suckers and non-believers’”, Drillich told Pennacchio in a July letter.

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“This year in his denunciation of antisemitism, Pope Francis stated that antisemitism in all its forms is ‘completely contrary to Christian principles and every vision worthy of the human person’.

“What does it mean that faithful parishioners pray on my stolen land and that I receive abuse?”

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