The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah.
An excerpt from the Claim Conference's official mission statement:
The mission of the Claims Conference over its 50-year history has always been to secure what we consider a small measure of justice for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. We have pursued this goal since 1951 through a combination of negotiations, disbursing funds to individuals and organizations, and seeking the return of Jewish property lost during the Holocaust.
The Claims Conference was founded in 1951 as a body to engage the German government in negotiations for material compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Nahum Goldmann, then president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), was a cofounder of the Claims Conference, and the WJC designates two members to its Board of Directors.
As of 2012, the Claims Conference has administered the following programs, which provide direct payments to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Programs were negotiated with the German government and are subject to eligibility criteria determined by the German government. The Conference continually negotiates to expand and liberalize eligibility criteria in order to include additional victims in the programs. In 1978, after 25 years of payments, the total Federal Republic of Germany payments amounted to 53 billion DeutschMarks Payments from some programs continue to this day.
- The Article 2 Fund, a lifetime pension for certain persons who were incarcerated in concentration camps, ghettos, or forced labor battalions, or who were forced to go into hiding. Eligibility criteria have been negotiated continually with Germany, and include limits on income, established by the German government.
- The Central and Eastern European Fund, a pension program similar to the Article 2 Fund, which distributes payments to survivors located in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
- Hardship Fund, a one-time payment for Jewish victims of Nazism who emigrated from Soviet bloc countries and meet certain eligibility criteria established by the German government.
- Holocaust Victims Compensation Fund, a one-time payment for Jewish victims of Nazism who fled from the Nazis. Comparable to the Hardship Fund but for current residents of the Former Soviet Union.
- Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers, a one-time payment for persons "compelled to perform work in a concentration camp...a ghetto, or a similar place of incarceration under comparable conditions." Application deadline has expired.
- Fund for Victims of Medical Experiments and Other Injuries Application deadline has expired.
- The Conference also works with the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHIEC) to process claims for unpaid Holocaust era insurance policies. The Conference also administers programs on behalf of the U.S. District Court administering the Swiss Banks Settlement.
The Claims Conference negotiated with the newly united German government in 1990 to enable original Jewish owners and heirs to file claims for properties in the former East Germany. In order that unclaimed properties should not revert to the state or to beneficiaries of Nazi policies, the Claims Conference also negotiated to recover unclaimed formerly Jewish properties in the former East Germany.
The Conference uses proceeds from these properties to allocate funds to social service organizations and institutions that provide assistance to Jewish victims of Nazism. These services include hunger relief, homecare, medical assistance, and emergency cash grants. The Claims Conference also administers social service allocations on behalf of several other sources of restitution funds.
The Conference uses a small portion of the proceeds from the East German properties to support programs engaging in Holocaust education, documentation, and research plus sponsor Birthright trips.
The Claims Conference has been criticised recently both for its high staff salaries and of its priorities.
On May 19, 2006, The Jewish Chronicle revealed that the Claims Conference highest-paid official, executive vice-president Gideon Taylor, was awarded $437,811 (£240,000) in salary and pension (2004 numbers). An advisor to British survivors in compensation claims in the 1990s, Dr Pinto-Duschinsky, commented: "It is wrong for the executive vice-president to earn annually the same as the compensation for several hundred former slave labourers. The moral authority of the leading Jewish organisations is gravely weakened by excessively high salaries for top officials."
One of the most outspoken critics of the Claims Conference is Isi Leibler, the former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, who cites allegations of incompetence, impropriety and cover-ups as well as the absence of an independent review board, bureaucratization and a domination by a small clique.
In an article of the Jerusalem Post he says that "the richest Jewish foundation in the world, has still failed to provide adequate financial assistance to elderly and sick Holocaust survivors who live in abject poverty in the twilight of their lives. An organization which boasts that it currently holds in trust $900 million in assets, yet fails to rectify such a condition, must be held accountable for one of the greatest scandals in contemporary Jewish life."
The priorities of the organization have also been criticised. Among the critics is the Claims Conference own treasurer, Roman Kent, a Holocaust survivor, who told the The 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.
In a 2006 investigative report, it was claimed the organization, while having $1.7 billion in its accounts, finances welfare assistance for only 9,000 survivors while "tens of millions of dollars each year" are spent on management expenses with the balance going largely to organisations having little to do with the Holocaust or its survivors.
Amidst this mounting criticism, the office of Germany's independent federal auditor announced it was considering an investigation of the Claims Conference in June 2008.
On November 9, 2010, the US Attorney's Office announced an indictment against 11 employees of the Claims Conference and several other individuals for fraud and embezzlement of over $42 million. The Claims Conference management alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation as soon as it discovered the fraud in 2009, and continues to cooperate with the FBI. On October 19, 2012, The Forward reported that the fraud had grown to $57 million.
The conspirators allegedly took out ads in Russian-language newspapers for people who were of a plausible age to have lived through World War II and coached them using their detailed knowledge of the history of the Holocaust to make fraudulent claims in exchange for kickbacks.
On May 20, 2011, The Melbourne Herald Sun reported that one investigation of a suspected fraudulent claim centered on Australian Alex Kurzem's application for reparations. Kurzem, whose life story is featured in a book entitled The Mascot, discussed his support for Nazi war criminal Kārlis Lobe but also claimed to be a victim of Nazi persecution.
- Bona vacantia
- The Holocaust Industry
- International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims
- Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany
- World Jewish Congress
- "The Mission of the Claims Conference". Claimscon.org. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- Sagi, Nina (1980) German Reparations: A history of negotiations. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University.
- "Eligibility [Please note: This program has concluded.]". Claimscon.org. 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
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- Isi Leibler. "Now, the 'March of the Living' scandal". Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2007. Available: http://fr.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1178431600267&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter
- Isi Leibler. "At the expense of survivors. Candidly Speaking from Jerusalem". November 8, 2010, Available: http://wordfromjerusalem.com/?p=2513
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- "Where did the Shoah money go?" Ynetnews, December 10, 2006.
- Germany mulls probe of Jewish group overseeing Holocaust restitution, Haaretz, June 17, 2008.
- Official website
- Claims Conference Website
- International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims
- Claims Resolution Tribunal
- Craig Horowitz: Machers in Meltdown 28.02.2005 The New York Times Magazine.
- Michal Grayevsky, Oron Meiri: "Where did the Shoah money go?" 12.10.2006, Ynet.
- Amiram Barkat: Israel, local survivors seek control of Holocaust Claims Conference 30.11.2006, Haaretz.
- Ines Ehrlich: Shoah survivors forced back to Germany due to Israel's lack of restitution law 16.04.2007, Ynet.
- Rachel Fletcher: "Claims Conference cash ‘too little, too late for us’", 25.05.2007, The Jewish Chronicle.
- Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Collection; I-319; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
- Guide to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute Archives, Center for Jewish History, New York.