Saul Kagan, the founder and longtime leader of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the main vehicle for negotiating with Germany over restitution for Holocaust survivors, died Nov. 10 at 91.
In a statement announcing his death, the Claims Conference credited Mr. Kagan with securing tens of billions in restitution payments during his 47 years at the helm of the organization. “Saul always made his work about the mission and never about himself. He was the very embodiment of humility, decency, integrity and wisdom.”
A native of Vilna, Lithuania, Mr. Kagan fled his homeland in 1940 on a journey that took him to Vladivostok and Japan before reaching Hawaii, and eventually New York. His father survived the war in the Soviet Union, but his mother, brother and grandparents were killed by the Nazis.
An intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he coordinated property restitution in Germany for the U.S. Army, and was involved in the creation of U.S. Government military order No. 59, which allowed Holocaust survivors and victims’ families to file claims for property confiscated by the Nazis.
In 1952, Mr. Kagan played a key role in the landmark Luxembourg Agreements, when representatives of Israel, Germany and the newly created Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany sat down to hammer out a reparations agreement for the crimes of Nazi Germany.
“For the first time in the history of the Jewish people, oppressed and plundered for hundreds of years … the oppressor and plunderer has had to hand back some of the spoil and pay collective compensation for part of the material losses,” Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote in a 1952 letter to the Claims Conference’s first president, Nahum Goldmann.
Through the Claims Conference, Kagan helped establish the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem and the program to honor righteous gentiles — non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
Kagan stepped down from the helm of the Claims Conference in 1999 and was succeeded by Gideon Taylor.
He is survived by his wife, Eleanor; a daughter, Julia; and stepchildren Jonathan and Emily Lobatto.