“Our grandfather’s legacy — and we never saw a penny out of it,” Ms. Sorkin said.
The sisters’ claim is further complicated by past efforts at restitution, including an international treaty between Poland and the United States. Under the 1960 agreement, Poland paid the United States $40 million to settle all claims by American citizens for property seized and nationalized in Poland.
Under the Communist government in Poland, the state nationalized all industries and seized almost all properties after the war. Warsaw, the capital, which was nearly destroyed in the war, passed its own regulation to nationalize some 40,000 properties. The city created in 1945 a flawed mechanism for seeking restitution; of the 17,000 claimed properties, only 300 were returned to their owners by the end of the Communist era.
Everything changed in 1989, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of capitalism, with its notion of the sacred right to private property. The sudden possibility of claiming their old properties by private lawsuits came as a shock to many people, said Lucyna Dygas, a Krakow-based lawyer who specializes in restitution of Jewish properties.