Australian declared rightful owner of family land

Australian declared rightful owner of family land

Poland’s Supreme Court rules in favour of Australian Ann Drillich, who claimed neighbour who saved her mother from Nazis later betrayed family and gave away their property.

Ann Drillich working on her campaign
in 2016. Photo: Peter Haskin
Ann Drillich working on her campaign in 2016. Photo: Peter Haskin

THE Australian daughter of Holocaust survivors who emigrated from Poland has won a major legal battle in her 11-year campaign to have her family’s land restored to her.

But despite a victory in Poland’s Supreme Court this month, Dr Ann Drillich is still fighting for compensation over a Roman Catholic parish church that was constructed on part of the estate in Tarnow.

When World War II began, the Melbourne GP’s late mother, Blanka Goldman, lived on the estate where the family had been for centuries.

In November 1941, Blanka, with her parents, grandfather and aunt were evicted by the Nazis and eventually forced into the Tarnow ghetto. They were murdered in 1942.

Blanka escaped, and with the help of the Poetschkes, a neighbouring family of German expatriates who the Nazis allowed to remain on the estate, she hid in a basement.

After the war, Blanka legally inherited the estate. Before emigrating to Australia in 1948 with her husband Henry Drillich, she gave Hubert Poetschke power-of-attorney over the land, which he later transferred to his son Jerzy.

The Communist authorities took control of the estate in the 1980s. But the Drillichs later discovered that in 1986 Jerzy had claimed ownership of some of the land, stating it had passed to the Poetschkes under adverse possession and claiming he did not know the whereabouts of any rightful owners. He reportedly did so on the advice of parish lawyers who were actually in contact with Henry Drillich in Melbourne but failed to negotiate a sale of the land with him. After Jerzy’s acquisition, he sold part of his parcel, donating the rest to the parish which built a church on it.

Since 2010, Ann Drillich has been in legal battles with the authorities. Six years ago, the matter appeared settled, after a court ruling confirmed she was the rightful owner. That changed last year, however, when Poland’s ultra-nationalist Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, whose party is known for instigating popular outrage against Jewish restitution claims, used his role as prosecutor-general to have the case reopened.

Ziobro’s office argued Drillich had launched her legal action too late to overturn the church’s acquisition of the plot in 1986. 

However, earlier this month, Poland’s Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s appeal and barred further claims by the church.

But the Melbourne doctor faces one more hurdle. Proceedings are still pending before an appeals court in Krakow over how the parish in Tarnow should compensate her. It remains to be decided whether it will physically return the property or pay a financial equivalent. She has also claimed around 2.5 million zloty ($A900,000) as compensation for use of the land.

Drillich told The AJN this week she is dismayed the church has failed to agree to a settlement. “Despite the fact that the district court of Tarnow refused an appeal by the Roman Catholic church, Our Lady of the Scapula, in Tarnow and upheld an earlier decision for reconciliation of the contents of the land and mortgage register with the actual legal status, the church keeps fighting. So when will the Pope intervene?”

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