Within the past year, the Claims Conference has obtained approximately $700 million in pledged funding from the German government for homecare for Holocaust victims through 2014, the result of intensive and prolonged negotiations with one focus: to provide the help that Nazi victims need in order to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible. Having been abandoned by the world in their youth, the Claims Conference has been determined that they shall not also be abandoned in their final years.
The Claims Conference drive to obtain this funding has been based on the belief that Germany still has an obligation to care for the people whose lives were forever scarred by Nazi persecution.
Of the above-mentioned amount, in 2011 alone, the Claims Conference will allocate $270 million, an increase of $100 million from just two years ago. The dramatic increase in survivor care funds obtained by the Claims Conference was a main focus of the organization’s recent two-day annual meeting of its Board of Directors. At these annual meetings, board members representing Jewish organizations from around the world come together to grapple with the complex and still-pressing issues related to Holocaust compensation and restitution.
In addition, our Board also approved a number of recommendations of the Special Committee for Allocations Policy Review, including striving to provide at least 25 hours or more per week of homecare assistance to all needy survivors with the greatest level of disability worldwide and maintaining the current level of funding of $18 million per year for Holocaust education, documentation, and research.
At this year’s annual meeting, the Claims Conference also announced a new compensation program for Holocaust victims in certain Eastern European countries, who have never before received any payment as recognition of their persecution. These one-time payments to 7,000 victims will total about $20 million – real money for elderly victims living in real need.
For two decades, the Claims Conference has been fighting for the principle of recognition for Holocaust victims who remained in Eastern Europe instead of immigrating to the West. This new program is only a start, as it is limited to the former Eastern bloc countries now belonging to the European Union, but for right now there are 7,000 elderly Nazi victims who will soon receive this payment.
The above programs are the major initiatives approved by the Claims Conference at its annual meeting, tangible results of years of negotiations with the German government.
At the recent meeting of the Claims Conference Board, a detailed and thorough presentation was given about the fraud perpetrated on the organization’s individual compensation programs. Directors were shown the sophistication and attention to detail used to forge identity documents that were used to demonstrate eligibility for payment.
When the Claims Conference first detected the fraud in November 2009, we immediately and decisively took steps to bring evidence of the scheme to U.S. law enforcement. We are not making excuses for the fraud or denying responsibility, but since it was discovered we have done everything possible to ensure that the perpetrators are punished and that such schemes will not occur again.
No survivor payments were affected by the fraud. We continue to disburse payments to Holocaust victims while still negotiating to include ever more survivors in compensation programs.
The Board voted to create a new Ombudsman position, whose responsibilities will be defined within the next two months. The Ombudsman will be independent and not affiliated with any Claims Conference Board organization or grant recipients. We look forward to the process of establishing and filling this position as a complement to the organization’s work in communicating with and assisting survivors and their families.
Our real audience knows the results of our work: The nearly 70,000 needy and disabled survivors who receive homecare; the tens of thousands of survivors who are receiving new or increased compensation payments; and the thousands of heirs who have recovered family assets.
This work attests to the organization’s effectiveness and importance. Altogether in 2010, the organization distributed $675 million to benefit Holocaust victims and heirs.
Our focus will remain on our task as we have done during our 60-year history, obtaining a small measure of justice for the victims of history’s greatest crime.
Julius Berman is chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.