Tuesday, April 29, 2008


What follows is a rather sad but on going story about Holocaust survivors who feel they are getting ripped off by one of the main groupings which is supposed to be helping them. I'm talking here about the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany - better known as the Claims Conference.

Some survivors say money that could be used helping them is instead going to build museums and other Jewish causes. Isi Leibler, a frequent critic of the CC says, "Previous grants have generated controversy because, despite representing deserving causes, some appear to lack any genuine relationship with the Holocaust: e.g., the Tel Aviv Yiddish Theater, sprinklers in Israeli nursing homes, Jewish cultural centers in St. Petersburg, Hatzolah volunteer ambulance services in Brooklyn, Bnei Brak women's organizations and birthright Israel."

The Claims Conference own treasurer, Roman Kent, a Holocaust survivor, told London's Jewish Chronicle: "Survivors are suffering. Our only priority should be the survivors, and everything else should be secondary. We are spending money for thousands of projects, but the health of the survivors can't wait. They are dying daily...I'm not saying that these are bad programmes, but they can wait - or else they should be the responsibility of the world Jewish community, not the Claims Conference

There have been increasing demands for greater transparency from the management of the Claims Conference (CC) in a Jerusalem Report article.

The Israeli Insider reported last year about this time the central issue was the allegation that whereas the Claims Conference does disclose allocations, it lacks transparency in the manner by which it allocates funds. Critics insisted that it functioned more like an old boys club than a representative body, and that the Board was merely a rubber stamp endorsing the decisions of a few machers who make decisions amongst themselves and only consult their key constituents. This, The Insider said was confirmed by the fact that the board never meaningfully challenges allocations submitted by the selection committee.

The CC's reputation is not helped by the fact it pays high salaries to a small group of senior staff, with the conference's director earning over $400,000 after benefits.

The most passionate complaint is that as a consequence of years of delayed processing and neglect, despite being one of the wealthiest foundations in the world, many aged survivors in poor health will not live to receive their restitution entitlements.

And that is deplorable.

Also of concern is, as reported by Jewish Currents, that despite occasional media reference to the Claims Conference as a “survivor group,” it has never been one either constitutionally or functionally. Only four of its forty-eight voting board seats are apportioned to survivor organizations, and these were added only in 1989.

A new documentary, set to be screened on TV in Isreal soon, will update the critique of the CC.

The new film, "The Morality of Payments - the Battle Continues," accuses the conference's leadership of "self-dealing," the practice of misusing one's public position to benefit one's private self reports the Jerusalem Post. It further accuses the conference of withholding funds from elderly, sick Holocaust survivors in order to ensure its own existence after those survivors have passed away.

The documentary claims that 60 percent of the survivor claims filed to the Hardship Fund of the Claims Conference are denied, and only 40% approved. According to conference records, however, 319,000 claims were approved out of 433,000 that were submitted, an approval rate of some 74%. The CC adds the criteria for disbursing survivors' benefits are set by the German government, not the conference.

As it always has the Claims Conference rejects all the complaints against it. The CC doesn't want the documentary shown at all.

The Post says a letter from the Tel Aviv law office M. Seligman & Co., which represents the conference, to the Israeli companies that produced the film, Ananey Tikshoret and Shamayim Hafakot, and to the channels that will be screening it claims: "Instead of producing a movie that reflects the conference's activities, criticizes where criticism is deserved while presenting a complete and fair picture, the makers of the movie chose to give a false presentation, regardless of the consequences."

The following is from AP via WTOP News (DC).

Survivors angry with reparations group on Holocaust Day

Israel's official memorial day for the Holocaust, which begins at sundown Wednesday, finds many elderly survivors of the Nazi genocide turning their anger on a group that is meant to help them.

For more than five decades, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany _ better known as the Claims Conference _ has been the central channel for billions of dollars in restitution and reparations payments from Germany to Jewish victims of the Third Reich.

Sixty-three years after Allied troops freed emaciated prisoners from the Nazi death camps, the group has become the target of increasingly strident criticism. Some survivors charge it with amassing excessive wealth in their name while forgetting the very people it is designed to serve, many of whom are growing old in poverty.

More than anything, critics say far too much money is going to projects like Holocaust museums and broader Jewish causes instead of to making survivors' lives better in the time they have left.

"Open your pocketbooks now. Don't worry about monuments. You'll have plenty left for monuments when the survivors are gone," said Jack Rubin, 79, of Boynton Beach, Fla.

Rubin is a retired Connecticut furrier born in what was then Czechoslovakia. In 1944, when he was 15, the Nazis sent him and his family to the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the train arrived, he was separated from his parents and grandparents and never saw them again. U.S. troops freed him in the spring of the following year.

"There is nothing more important than the Holocaust survivors, and in the few years they have left they should live in dignity. That is all I ask of the Claims Conference," Rubin said.

About 6 million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators in World War II. Today, there are an estimated 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, roughly half in Israel and the rest mainly in the U.S. and countries of the former Soviet Union.

Tens of thousands of them, at least, are poor. For these people, the Claims Conference is the primary _ and sometimes the only _ address for aid.

The current dispute involves money that the group received from selling unclaimed Jewish properties in the former East Germany, which it inherited by law after Germany was reunited.

The Claims Conference says it distributes around $120 million a year from that money. Eighty percent goes to survivors and institutions that help them, and the rest goes to Holocaust education and memorials like Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial authority.

Responding to critics of how the money is spent, Claims Conference official Reuven Merhav said educating the world about the Holocaust is no less urgent than providing direct aid to survivors. And it must be done while survivors are still around to tell their story, he said.

"The money spent on education and commemoration makes a great impact, and would not make much of a difference to anyone if it were split among tens of thousands of survivors," said Merhav, a retired Israeli Mossad agent and diplomat who is an unpaid top official with the group.

Merhav said it is a myth the Claims Conference has great wealth. It has reserves of around $350 million, enough to last only three or four years at the rate the funds are being disbursed, he said.

According to the Claims Conference, it has negotiated more than $70 billion in German reparations since 1950 for people who were imprisoned in concentration camps, confined to ghettos, forced into slave labor and medical experiments, or forced out of their homes by the Nazis.

In doing so, the organization played a key role in helping victims rebuild their lives, while allowing Germany to regain a place in the community of civilized nations after the Holocaust.

But it has been dogged by controversy. It has been the subject of numerous journalistic investigations criticizing a lack of accountability and transparency and a refusal in some cases to turn over properties it controls to legitimate heirs of the original owners.

One such critique is "In the Name of the Victims," a video-activist documentary that first aired in Germany last year.

The film, directed by Ilan Ziv, drew emotional reactions when it was screened last month for survivors at Israel's parliament. "Criminals. That's our money," one woman muttered.

The Claims Conference, headquartered in New York, says it has greatly benefited hundreds of thousands around the world.

In Ziv's movie, the group's executive vice president, Gideon Taylor, calls the work "an impossible task."

"You are taking the greatest moral challenge that the Jewish people faced in our history, the Shoah, and translating it into financial terms," Taylor said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

"The only thing that the Claims Conference is trying to do is to try to balance the different perspectives _ the rights, the wrongs _ with some Solomonic solution. That's all that we can do," he said.

No comments: