Last week, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) came under a vicious attack in this newspaper (“Clean Up the Claims Conference”). Isi Leibler continues to engage in irresponsible invective and false charges against an organization that for nearly 60 years has been the leading international advocate for the rights of Holocaust victims and the primary source in caring for their needs.
“Clean Up the Claims Conference” reflects the opinion of one man against an organization that has never been accused of or charged with any wrongdoing; that is audited annually by numerous bodies; and that discloses detailed financial information with respect to each and every grant that it makes. To write this piece is the height of irresponsibility against elderly Holocaust survivors, leading them to believe that they are being sinned against by the very organization that is their primary advocate.
As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
In a grossly irresponsible move, Leibler makes the spurious claim that the Claims Conference has $1 billion allegedly available that could be used to aid poor, aged and infirm survivors but is not being used for that purpose. This figure and the overall assertion is a complete myth, like so much else that was written.
Unfortunately, Leibler did not let the facts get in the way of a good story. He willfully ignored the publicly available Statement of Liabilities and Net Assets, which details the Claims Conference’s finances with numbers and explanations (www.claimscon.org/financials).
Of the $1 billion detailed in the Statement, $211 million is to be paid to the heirs of property appropriated by the Nazis. Another $360 million has already been allocated for homecare, medicine, food and other vital services and programs. Out of the remaining $543 million, which was obtained from the recovery of unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany, the Claims Conference allocates $136 million per year — for social services for Holocaust survivors — and a fraction for Holocaust remembrance and education. This means that this amount will last for only four more years.
By reporting this billion-dollar myth as fact, Leibler misleads needy Holocaust survivors into believing that there is a “pot of gold” on the other side of a locked door that, if opened, would greatly alleviate the physical and mental conditions in which they are suffering. This is the height of irresponsibility and is shameful.
However, the damage to survivors runs even deeper. The Claims Conference has an urgent mission to obtain additional resources to help them. Negotiations with governments, 65 years after the end of the war and in the midst of the world financial crisis, become more difficult every year. Despite all of the obstacles, the Claims Conference has been uniquely successful in increasing the funds available for survivors.
It is outrageous to undermine these delicate negotiations by making false accusations to the media when the true facts are available in open sources. If governments are led to believe that the Claims Conference has $1 billion at its disposal, why would they provide restitution at this stage?
Instead of falsely accusing the Claims Conference of hoarding funds, we invite all those who are truly interested in survivors’ needs to join us in efforts to alleviate hardships endured by Nazi victims.
Leibler also makes false accusations regarding the fraud perpetrated against Claims Conference compensation programs. Let me be clear: it was the Claims Conference that discovered the fraud, a sophisticated criminal scheme, in which expertly falsified and phony documents were submitted to programs that make payments to Jewish victims of Nazism. These programs have been targeted by persons seeking to extract payments to which they were not entitled.
Upon discovering the fraud, the Claims Conference immediately contacted U.S. federal law enforcement authorities and notified the German government. In addition, the Claims Conference mounted and continues a vigorous and thorough investigation to determine the scope and source of the fraud.
Contrary to Leibler’s assertion that the organization has “trivialized” the issue, the Claims Conference has been aggressive in documenting the fraud and bringing all possible evidence to the U.S. federal law enforcement authorities. The Claims Conference released a statement explaining the events and provided all the information it was able within the context of an ongoing federal investigation.
Leibler also perpetuates the tired criticism that the Claims Conference is not accountable or transparent, calling for review and disclosure of the organization’s allocations. See www.claimscon.org/allocations/list for a list of every Claims Conference grant, including the amount and purpose of each one.
He also engages in legally questionable hyperbole, claiming that numerous heirs to property have charged the Claims Conference has “defrauded” them. Fraud is a quite serious accusation, one that should be documented before it is bandied about.
The nearly 60-year historic endeavor to obtain compensation and restitution for survivors of the Shoah and victims’ heirs has been, and continues to be, unparalleled in Jewish and indeed human history. Had it not accomplished so much and striven so mightily on behalf of the survivors, the Claims Conference might not have received this attention and been so bitterly criticized. If obtaining $70 billion for Holocaust victims; recovering property; providing food packages and homecare; and establishing a historical precedent for compensation and restitution means that the Claims Conference will continue to be a target for perennial critics, then let the critics continue writing, and we’ll continue helping survivors live out their final years in greater comfort and dignity. n
Julius Berman is the chairman of the Claims Conference.