New Shoah pension deal gives survivors ‘recognition of suffering’


For Aviva G., the significance of last week’s announcement that more Holocaust survivors like her will be eligible for pension payments from the German government was not about the money. It was about principle and the notion that a certain degree of justice may now be done.

Aviva, 71, says there is no true compensation for years in ghettos, but she sees the new deal as a “recognition of suffering.” Aviva asked that her family name be withheld.

After extensive negotiations with the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Germany eased some eligibility requirements so more low-income survivors like Aviva can receive so-called Article 2 pension payments.

The agreement, which adds $250 million to the pension fund over 10 years, may be one of the last and biggest breakthroughs in the area of reparations to survivors, according to the Claims Conference.

The deal affects survivors whose income levels made them ineligible for payments in the past. Until now, those with annual income above $16,000 were excluded from the payments.

Under the new deal, income received from other pension sources, including governmental pensions, disability payments, retirement plans and the like, or a spouse’s income, will not be counted toward the $16,000 total.

The change effectively enables thousands more low-income survivors to collect pension payments from Germany. The funds will be distributed starting Oct. 1 and continue for 10 years.

“It’s a huge thing,” Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said in a telephone interview with JTA. “It will make a big difference for a lot of people worldwide.”

Taylor said it took “a long battle” and months of negotiations to reach the agreement.

The Claims Conference will be launching a major advertising campaign to reach those who might be eligible, he said. Information about how to apply is available at Claims Conference offices and on its Web site, www.claimscon.org. There is no deadline for applications, according to Taylor.

The decision to lower the bar for eligibility comes just as Germany has enacted a law granting pensions to victims of the German Communist regime. For these victims, too, pensions and income from spouses will not count against eligibility.

The Law for Support of Victims of the Socialist German Dictatorship, the third post-reunification law aimed at compensating victims of World War II, was enacted Aug. 29. Low-income applicants who were imprisoned under the Communist regime for at least six months may receive 250 euro per month.

The additional payments for Holocaust survivors will be from the Claims Conference Article 2 Fund pension program, which currently distributes pensions to 51,000 survivors. The new rules will lead to a 10 percent increase in those who qualify for payments, or about 6,000 people, the Claims Conference estimated.

Aviva might be among the younger ones. Born in 1938 in Boryslaw, then part of Poland, she was a small child when German troops wrested the region from Soviet control in the summer of 1941. Most of the town’s Jews were killed, but Aviva’s mother managed to hide her in the ghetto while most other children were deported.

“When my mother found out that all the women and children and nonworking old men would be deported, we left the ghetto and hid in the woods, and then in the home of a Ukrainian woman who had worked for us,” Aviva said.

Her brother, who later was killed, gave the woman money to hide them. For a while, Aviva and her mother lived in the space behind a wardrobe pushed against a corner.

The woman “slipped the food to us from below,” Aviva recalled. “I could not be loud. I could not laugh, cry or shout. And afterward, for months I could only whisper.”

They were liberated by Russian troops at the end of 1944.

Aviva met her husband, Juergen, an engineer, in Israel, and returned with him to his native Germany in 1958. They had two daughters and now have five grandchildren who live in Israel.

For decades, Aviva was a social worker for the Frankfurt Jewish community. She and her husband are retired.

She said she received a small reparations payment from Germany of 5,000 Deutschmark in the 1950s — that’s worth about $3,500 today — “but that is nothing for the fact that I basically lost my childhood.”

She applied for Article 2 payments in 2000 but was told her income was slightly over the limit.

“That disappointed me a lot,” she said. “Thank God, I am financially not so dependent. It is more a moral issue. This suffering I experienced as a child was never recognized.”

Process of Payments


Virtually all Jews locked up in concentration camps, ghettos and similar places of incarceration during the Holocaust may now apply for compensation from a newly created $5 billion German foundation. And on Feb. 5, the names of 21,000 probable Holocaust victims whose dormant accounts still sit in Swiss banks were posted on the Internet.

These two efforts are the first major attempts to see that survivors and their heirs begin to realize the fruits of talks that started with Swiss negotiations five years ago. The Swiss negotiations resulted in a court-approved $1.25 billion fund being established, 80 percent of which has been set aside to pay the heirs of those who had money in bank accounts the Swiss hoarded.

While applauding steps to begin the distribution, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said he was "appalled that the total going to lawyers is on the order of $100 million from both of these funds." The figure was either negotiated or court ordered and represents a fraction of the total.

Survivors and their heirs are asked to complete applications if they believe they qualify for money from either fund. Applications can be downloaded from the Internet or obtained from toll-free numbers and at several locations in greater Los Angeles (see box, below).

As many as 170,000 Jewish survivors worldwide are expected to apply for the German money, which is designed to compensate slave and forced laborers. Those who were slave laborers may receive up to $7,500, forced laborers up to $2,500.

As part of Hitler’s Final Solution, Jews were forced to perform labor under the harshest of conditions as one way of exterminating the Jews of Europe. Therefore, all those thrown into concentration camps, ghettos and other areas of confinement are considered former slave laborers and thus entitled to compensation. Forced laborers are those who were made to work in areas under Nazi or Axis occupation during World War II under conditions not included in the definition of a slave laborer.

Claims will be accepted from former slave or forced laborers except those currently residing in Poland, the Czech Republic and other former Communist nations. Their respective national foundations will process their claims. Certain heirs of former laborers who died on or since Feb. 16 are also eligible.

Those who received previous payments from a private German industry fund for slave and/or forced labor will have such payments deducted from the amount they will now receive. This fund is independent of other funds and requires new applications. Payments will be made in two stages, with the second amount dependent on the number of people who apply. Applications must be filed by Aug. 11.

To obtain an application to apply for money under this fund, call (800) 697-6064 or go to the Web site www.claimscon.org. Information is available on the Web site in seven languages.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany will help administer the fund. It estimates that as many as 50,000 survivors in the United States and Canada are eligible for the money.

"Nothing can make whole again the horrors during the Third Reich," said Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Claims Conference. "But survivors have received some justice through Germany’s recognition of its moral obligation to create this fund."

Half of the foundation’s money will come from the German government and the rest from more than 5,000 of the country’s businesses, including Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz, Bayer and Siemens. Most German industry and business benefited from slave or forced labor during the Holocaust.

In the Swiss case, applications for those who believe they are heirs of Holocaust victims whose money still sits in Swiss banks are available. To obtain an application form, call (800) 881-2736, or visit one of the following Web sites: www.dormantaccounts.ch, www.crt-ii.org or www.swissbankclaims.com.

Although 26,000 names were to be posted, Michael Bradfield, a special master appointed by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Edward Korman, said the number was reduced to 21,000 because of a duplication of names. He said a special team of auditors headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker found that there were 36,000 dormant accounts probably opened by Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. But in a compromise with Swiss banks, only 21,000 will be posted.

Bradfield said that anyone who believes he or she is the heir of a Holocaust victim who had a Swiss account should complete the application form whether or not the victim’s name is posted on the Internet. Even those who paid a Swiss ombudsman to search Swiss bank records and were told no account existed should apply.

"The ombudsman didn’t look where [the auditors] looked," said Bradfield. "We have a lot of accounts that were closed that the ombudsman never looked at."

He stressed that the entire process is free, and there is no need to hire a lawyer. The deadline for filing applications is in six months; Bradfield said he expected 100,000 claims to be filed. He said it is expected to take two years to review and act on each application and that every filing will be acknowledged. Once a determination is made, a letter will be sent explaining the disposition. Under Swiss law, the names can be kept confidential, but the dollar amounts will be made public.

Those applying for dormant funds will be asked to provide "plausible information to demonstrate that they have a legitimate relationship [to the person on the list] and that they would be the heir under normal inheritance laws," Bradfield said. "We are looking for plausible evidence, taking into account the destruction of documents, the disruption of the war and horrible persecution."

These local agencies are offering applications for payments from the fund for slave and forced laborers:

Los Angeles
(310) 271-3306;
(323) 937-5900
Valley
(818) 984-1380
West Hollywood
(323) 851-8202

Santa Monica
(310) 393-0732
Bet Tzedek:
(323) 549-5883
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust:
(323) 761-8170

Agreement Reached for Slave Laborers


Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.


Laborers File Suit for Wartime Injustices


Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.


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