Claims Conference

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The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, represents the world's Jews 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 Holocaust. Julius Berman has led the organization as chairman of the board, and currently president, as of 2020.[1][2]

Compensation programs[edit]

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 compensation payments amounted to 53 billion Deutsch Marks.[3] 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 (FSU).
  • 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.[4]
  • 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.
  • The Child Survivor Fund is a one-time payment intended to acknowledge the suffering of Holocaust survivors who endured unimaginable trauma in their childhoods. This fund is open to Jewish Nazi victims who were persecuted as Jews and were born January 1, 1928 or later.
  • The Spouse of Holocaust Survivor Fund is a fund to compensate the spouses of deceased recipients of the Claims Conference’s Article 2 or Central and Eastern European (CEEF) pension funds.
  • 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."[5] Application deadline has expired.
  • Fund for Victims of Medical Experiments and Other Injuries Application deadline has expired.

International Holocaust Survivors Night (IHSN)[edit]

Every year since 2017 the Claims Conference has hosted International Holocaust Survivors Night on the third night of Chanukah to honor Jewish survivors of the Shoah. Events have been hosted in Jerusalem, Berlin, the New York/New Jersey metro area, Paris and Moscow.[6][7]

Criticism[edit]

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."[8]

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.[9][10]

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."[9]

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 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

Fraud convictions[edit]

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.

In 2013, an 8-year jail sentence was handed down to Art. 2 funds director Semen Domnitser.[14][15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Claims Conference Board of Directors Charts Future Course at Annual Meeting". Claims Conference. July 14, 2014. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  2. ^ Boigon, Molly (June 24, 2020). "Claims Conference executive who led during fraud scandal to serve as new chairman". The Forward. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  3. ^ Sagi, Nina (1980). German Reparations: A history of negotiations. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University. p. 196. ISBN 9789652233516.
  4. ^ "Germans to compensate survivors who fled". Australian Jewish News. January 23, 2012. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  5. ^ "Eligibility [Please note: This program has concluded.]". Claimscon.org. 2007-01-01. Archived from the original on 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  6. ^ "International Holocaust Survivors Night 2018". Claims Conference. December 2018. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  7. ^ Schaeffer, Jeffrey; Charlton, Angela (December 23, 2019). "From New York to Moscow, Holocaust survivors share memories". Associated Press. apnews.com. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  8. ^ Frazer, Jenni; Rocker, Simon (2006-05-19). "The man on the left earns $437,811 a year handling Shoah claims. So why are so many survivors pleading poverty?". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  9. ^ a b Isi Leibler (May 8, 2007). "Now, the 'March of the Living' scandal". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  10. ^ Isi Leibler. "At the expense of survivors. Candidly Speaking from Jerusalem". November 8, 2010, Available: http://wordfromjerusalem.com/?p=2513
  11. ^ Haviv Rettig Gur (2008-04-28). "Claims Conference seeks to block documentary". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  12. ^ "Where did the Shoah money go?" Ynetnews, December 10, 2006.
  13. ^ Germany mulls probe of Jewish group overseeing Holocaust restitution, Haaretz, June 17, 2008.
  14. ^ Guttman, Nathan (2013-05-22). "Claims Conference chief knew of $57m Holocaust fraud probe earlier". The Forward. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  15. ^ "Former Holocaust Claims Conference Director Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for $57.3 Million Fraud on Organization That Makes Reparations to Victims of Nazi Persecution". US Attorney's Office. 2013-11-04. Retrieved 2016-08-05.

External links[edit]