The Anti-Defamation League is set to honor Burt Neuborne, the NYU law professor who took the lead in fighting for Holocaust survivors in their efforts to recover their Holocaust-era deposits from Swiss Banks and restitution from German companies, at its dinner next week.
But some survivors believe he doesn’t deserve the honor.
"It’s a shonda [scandal] for the Jewish people," said David Mermelstein, former president of the Coalition of Holocaust Survivors of Florida. "He betrayed us."
He was referring to the fact that Neuborne has asked a court for $4.76 million in legal fees for about eight years of work in the Swiss bank settlement that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement.
"He was always telling us that he was working pro-bono [without a fee]," Mermelstein added. "He would say that he would not take money from this case because it would be taking money out of survivors’ mouths."
Menachem Rosensaft, a lawyer and founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, declined to comment on the ADL award but said Neuborne’s fee request was "outrageously excessive" in light of the fact that he received $4.4 million in the German case.
"There is a point at which even greed becomes unseemly," he said. "If he had charged $250,000 a year for eight years (which is high and more than federal judges make) he would have to give back $2.4 million and everything he did in the Swiss case would be done for free. … It is appalling for anyone to be profiting and profiteering off the effort to provide Holocaust survivors a measure of justice."
But Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, defended the selection of Neuborne for the organization’s American Heritage Award.
"He did yeoman service on behalf of the Holocaust effort when nobody was stepping up to the plate," he said. "The fact that there is a controversy does not detract one iota from our honoring him. The issue of legal fees will be resolved by the courts. That does not detract from what he did. And he didn’t do it in order to make a dollar. He did it to provide justice. He worked hard. He was successful. We should applaud him. …If there wasn’t a Burt Neuborne, the case wouldn’t have been won."