Should unclaimed Holocaust funds be used for anything other than first taking care of the needs of sick, aging survivors?
A growing debate over how perhaps billions of dollars in unclaimed Holocaust restitution and reparation funds should be spent will get its first public airing next week when 500 Jewish communal leaders from across the country meet in Baltimore.
Members of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are set to consider a resolution that publicly questions the current formula of disbursing such funds at an 80-20 split: Eighty percent to help Holocaust survivors, 20 percent for Holocaust education and research and other projects.
Proponents of that formula argue that all reparation and restitution funds don’t belong to survivors and that it is a moral responsibility to use 20 percent for Holocaust education, documentation and research, even to fund other future projects to benefit the Jewish people.
But critics of the 80-20 split insist that all Holocaust funds must first be used to take care of the needs of thousands of aging Holocaust survivors, many of whom, they say, are ill and in need of special home and medical care.
Only when survivors’ needs are met should these funds be used for other purposes, they argue.
That is the gist of the proposed resolution to the JCPA annual meeting by the Jewish Community Relations Councils of Boston and Miami.
Titled "On Care for Needy Holocaust Survivors," the resolution declares that Holocaust survivors who are lacking basic needs (food, shelter, medical care or any other form of assistance) "deemed necessary to allow them to live out the remainder of their lives in comfort and dignity," should receive Holocaust-related funds that are not legally restricted to a specific purpose.
Funds that have already been obtained or those received later, regardless of the source paying out or the agency administering the funds, are included.
The resolution cites estimates that there are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, about a quarter of whom are in the United States, and that some are living in abject poverty and lacking basic needs.
"This shocking situation has only recently begun to come to the attention of many in the Jewish community," the resolution states, adding there is also "a hidden population" of survivors, "many of whom are hesitant to seek assistance."
The resolution questions the policy of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to earmark 20 percent "for Holocaust and Jewish education, to promote tolerance and for various Jewish continuity programs."
"It is clear from the recent alarming revelations concerning the unmet needs of many Holocaust survivors … that all funds obtained in their name should be expeditiously allocated and disbursed to help alleviate their plight," the resolution says.
But the Jewish Labor Committee is pushing an amendment to water down the resolution and maintain the concept of using the funds for other purposes.
The committee’s amendment reads: "The approach of using a limited part of Holocaust-related funds to honor the memory of those who perished for programs of research, documentation and education of the Holocaust is also recognized."
Boston attorney Rick Mann, a driving force behind the Boston-Miami resolution, calls it a moral issue.
"From a moral perspective, it is unconscionable to use money that ought to be going to alleviate the needs of people who continue to suffer for anything else," he said Tuesday. "They’ll be gone in 10 to15 years."
Mann said the resolution is meant to deliver "a message to the Claims Conference that this is an issue we care about, that we feel passionately about. This is just one step among many."
Samuel Dubbin, a Miami attorney and chairman of that city’s JCRC, cited a recent groundbreaking national survey by Bert Goldberg, president of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, that found only half of the survivors’ home care and emergency services needs are being met.
To fully meet the needs of current and future survivors would cost an additional $30 million, he said.
Dubbin said a proposal has been submitted to New York District Court Judge Edward Korman to use a forthcoming billion-dollar pot from Swiss bank settlements to bridge the gap.
JCPA assistant executive director Ethan Felson said, "The importance of this resolution is agencies using the national process to express issues that are of great concern within their agencies."
Felson declined to speak to the merits of the resolution, but said if passed it would be symbolic but carry no binding authority.
A spokeswoman for the Claims Conference declined to comment on the proposed resolution.
But Hillary Kessler Godin defended her agency’s 80-20 spending formula.
She explained that the 80-20 plan was conceived in 1993 when the Claims Conference "created Holocaust survivor assistance programs through social service agencies because we recognized at the time that the needs of aging survivors was becoming more acute and the Jewish community had no earmarked funds for survivor assistance."
At that time, agency officials "also made the decision to allocate 20 percent of the proceeds to education, documentation and research of the Shoah in the belief there is an obligation to preserve the memory of those who perished and insure generations to come would learn of the Shoah.
Godin said several Holocaust survivors sit on the board of the Claims Conference and approve of the 80-20 split.
She also said she could not speak to potential future uses of the monies as outlined in a controversial essay last June in an issue of the Jewish journal Sh’ma by Israel Singer, a key player in negotiating Holocaust restitution deals with governments and businesses around the world.
In the essay Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Claims Conference, advocated for the creation of a new global Fund for the Jewish People, funded by Holocaust monies, which would "rebuild the Jewish soul and spirit" through education and other ambitious projects.
"Holocaust survivors are not the only persons charged with making decisions for the Jewish people about how to use monies that will not be needed after they die," Singer wrote.
"For those who don’t want to do this [new fund], the legacy of the Holocaust will be only about social welfare programs and money."
Meanwhile, a Florida-based Holocaust survivor’s group is raising tough questions about a tentative plan by the International Commission on Holocaust era Insurance Claims to allocate $165 million in so-called "humanitarian funds" from heirless Eastern European insurance policies.
In a strongly worded four-page letter to ICHEIC Chairman Lawrence Eagleburger, the former secretary of state and foreign ambassador, a group called the Holocaust Survivors Foundation-USA Inc. is sharply criticizing ICHEIC for:
maintaining a closed decision-making process that fails to include elected Holocaust survivors;
using skewed numbers to propose inflated allocations to survivors in the former Soviet Union;
"grossly underfunding" U.S. Holocaust survivors;
setting aside 20 percent of the funds for unnamed future projects while survivors are suffering.
"The closed nature of the process to date has raised serious concerns among survivors," states the Jan. 30 letter signed by HSF president David Schaecter, whose organization represents about 50 grass-roots survivor groups with more than 20,000 members nationally.
Several calls to ICHEIC’s Washington headquarters were not returned.
However, in a Jan. 23 memo obtained by The Jewish Week, Eagleburger said he agreed with a "general consensus" that 80 percent of the $165 million he controls should be used for social welfare purposes for Nazi victims "and 20 percent for other projects in keeping with the purposes for which ICHEIC was created.
" Eagleburger also proposed that ICHEIC enter into a one-year contract with the Claims Conference to distribute the social welfare funds.
Dealing with confluence of crises is top agenda item at JCPA annual meeting. Page 28.