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A Boost For Survivors

A Boost For Survivors

There will be an extra $15 million for the care of needy Holocaust survivors worldwide as a result of a settlement by German insurance companies of heirless Holocaust-era Jewish insurance policies.
But a representative of a survivorsí organization said even more money could become available if the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany were to release some of the $250 million it has set aside for the long-term care of survivors.
"There is sufficient money in the coffers of the Claims Conference to provide additional funds," said Leo Rechter, executive director of the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors.
Hillary Kessler-Godin, a spokeswoman for the Claims Conference, said there are no plans yet on when to begin allocating the $250 million, which came from the sale of heirless Jewish East German property the Claims Conference acquired about 10 years ago.
"Our goal is to keep our allocations [to social service agencies] constant for at least the next few years," said Kessler-Godin, adding that although the amount is expected to be the same next year, she is uncertain about two years from now.
The variable has to do with the amount the Claims Conference raises in future years from heirless Jewish property in the former East Germany.
The Claims Conference has amassed $1 billion from such property, about half of which has been allocated to social service agencies, as well as for Holocaust education and memorials.
Kessler-Godin said the largest properties already have been sold and that the amount of income from future sales or compensation is unknown. She said that this year, $72 million has been allocated to social service agencies to care for needy survivors worldwide.
Rechter said his group has asked that the Claims Conference books be opened to a "committee of Holocaust survivors."
"We have CPAs among us," he said. "From the past behavior of the Claims Conference, we have no confidence in their fiscal reporting."
Rechter added that he would like the Claims Conference to publish a list of all the East German property it has acquired to help facilitate its recovery by the rightful owners.
Kessler-Godin pointed out that the German government and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young audit the Claims Conference books, and that the Claims Conference publishes its complete financial picture on its Web site and in its annual report.
She said the Claims Conference’s 54-member board would discuss the issue of publishing the list of its East German property at the July 22 meeting to be held here.
Rechter said he was aware of the meeting and was upset that it would be held behind closed doors.
"We would like to see transparency in everything they do," he said.
Kessler-Godin confirmed that the Claims Conference board meeting is not open but that the organization "meets frequently and repeatedly with any individual or organizations who wishes to do so."
The insurance company money is part of the $132 million that is to be distributed to social service agencies worldwide over the next 10 years. The money comes from the $275 million settlement on Oct. 16 with German insurance companies. The remainder of the money is to be used to pay insurance claims.
At a press conference here Monday, Dale Franklin, a spokesman for the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims, which worked out the settlement, said that offers totaling $37 million have been made to more than 2,400 people, the majority of whom have accepted them.
Four social service agencies in New York will receive a total of $1.1 million of the $2.4 million allocated for Holocaust survivors in the United States.
Stuart Kaplan, chief executive officer of Selfhelp Community Services, said his agency serves 2,700 survivors, the largest number in the nation. Selfhelp would get more than $600,000 of the insurance money, he said, on top of the $1.5 million it currently receives.
The Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island will receive $167,760 will receive from the insurance companies. One survivor at the press conference, Pearl Sapoznik of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, said the agency provides her with household help every two weeks.
Rabbi Moshe Wiener, the group’s executive director, said he expected the new money to be used to provide services to those on his waiting list and to expand services already provided.
"There are those on dialysis who we transport for treatment once a week," he said. "Now we might be able to transport them more frequently."
Pesach Tikvah in Brooklyn and Bikur Cholim of Borough Park are the other area agencies that will receive funds.
Insurance companies, primarily German, have posted on the Internet ( a list of 360,000 Jewish insurance policy holders. Members of the insurance commission said they hoped other insurance companies would enable heirs to file claims by posting names of additional policyholders. Insurance claims must be filed by Sept. 30.
There is also a June 30 deadline for filing claims under a new German social security law that took effect last year. William Marks, a lawyer in Bernardsville, N.J., who specializes in Holocaust restitution claims, said it applies to Jews who worked in European ghettos under which Germany had operational control.
"Between 1997 and 2002, only those working in certain ghettos in Poland were eligible for social security, and the biggest was Lodz," Marks said. "But through political pressure, the Germans agreed to expand the scope of the law to include all European ghettos where Jews might have worked and were paid, including Warsaw and Vilna, Krakow and Lublin. It potentially affects thousands of people."
Marks said the Germans had expected to receive about 5,000 claims but that they now fear the number could hit 30,000. As a result, he said, they are being more scrupulous in analyzing claims.
Applicants should seek legal counsel and appeal all decisions, Marks advised, whether they win a pension or not, because some awards are for less than the person is legally entitled to. And he said widows or widowers may apply if their spouse has died; children may press claims filed before their parent’s death.
Regarding the insurance claims, Israel Singer, president of the Claims Conference, said the settlement was only a "small measure of success" and lamented that it took nearly 60 years after the war to pressure insurance companies to pay the death benefits of those killed in the Holocaust.
"But the world is changed and you can do things late: but not never," he said. "If there are those who believe we could do better and can still do better [in a settlement], I am among them. Years ago this should have been done, but we were then rebuilding our lives and we didn’t have the understanding or the political ability to do it."
Roman Kent, treasurer of the Claims Conference and a survivor, said he was "greatly disappointed" that the insurance companies have refused to provide health insurance coverage "so badly needed by survivors." But he said there was success in the fact that for the first time insurance companies "were held accountable for their misdeeds after the Holocaust."

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