Claims Conference Reforms Continue

Claims Conference Reforms Continue

Much has appeared in the Jewish press about the Claims Conference over the past several weeks, including a report by Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, relying on material from letters that I wrote (“Claims Conference Facing New Pressures,” July 17).

I neither released, nor authorized the release of, my correspondence with Julius Berman, president of the Claims Conference. [Editor’s note: Mr. Goot is referring to a letter he wrote to Berman, demanding that the Leadership Council of the Claims Conference, of which Mr. Goot is a member, be shown a letter Berman and Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider had written to the German Finance Ministry. The letter in question was said to have disavowed the report by the ombudsman of the Claims Conference calling for serious reform of its practices.] I did not do so for a variety of reasons, including that the correspondence was incomplete, and significantly, because following my representations to him, the letter that I sought was immediately provided to me by Berman.

The Claims Conference is not perfect, but as a member of its board of directors and, since last year, an elected member of its Leadership Council, I have always tried to achieve reform from within that organization. I believe that in the last two years in particular, that reform has begun and will continue. Just recently, at the annual meeting of the board of the Claims Conference, a resolution put forward by me and setting out a number of measures to improve governance, transparency of decision and leadership succession planning was carried unanimously. I will continue to be at the forefront in trying to make what I believe are necessary improvements to ensure the highest levels of accountability and transparency in this critically important and unique organization. 

But it is also important to make the point, so often ignored in reporting on the Claims Conference, that through its efforts the German government and others have recognized in a material and historically unique way (as they needed to), the unspeakable wrongs perpetrated during the Shoah, and they continue to do so.

Clearly, while there can be no full remedy for the heinous crime of the Shoah, Germany has acknowledged its guilt with more than $70 billion in payments — all resulting from agreements made with the Claims Conference — most recently to the Child Survivors Fund.

Moreover, rather than decelerating its work, as the number of survivors declines, in recent years the Claims Conference has been able to secure several new agreements generating billions of dollars in funding increases from Germany — all of which goes directly to survivors, or to welfare programs for survivors worldwide. The Claims Conference continues to distribute approximately $700 million annually, in direct compensation and funding for various services, to survivors of the Shoah in 78 countries.

The Claims Conference’s relentless efforts for the welfare of survivors, in their final years, have been extraordinary and the results remarkable. 

It is little wonder then, that those accomplishments were recognized at the annual board meeting in a resolution “acknowledging the outstanding efforts of the leadership and management of the Claims Conference and their success beyond expectations, in negotiating and administering record funds and programs on behalf of Holocaust survivors.” I wholeheartedly endorsed that expression of support.

There is another aspect of all of this that, for much too long, has been missing. And that is the responsibility of Jews, the world over, to help in the support of elderly Shoah survivors increasingly in need of aid, care and comfort. The current funding, from Germany and elsewhere is simply not enough and will never be, to meet their needs, which continue to grow as their average age rises.

Both as a leader of the Claims Conference and as a member of my Jewish community in Australia, I know the pressure the Claims Conference has brought to bear and the fruits of those labors.  However, I also know that survivors need even more. I call upon the global Jewish community to become involved in providing for the remaining survivors. We must all remember by caring for those who endured the unimaginable and survived to tell and to continue the Jewish chain so nearly broken.

Robert Goot is president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and a member of the Leadership Council of the Claims Conference.

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