Elie Wiesel is the honorary host of the concert at Washington’s Kennedy Center. The host is former U.S. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who has championed the cause of Holocaust reparations. Members of Congress and the Obama administration will likely be in attendance. And the acclaimed conductor Murry Sidlin will be leading the National Opera Orchestra in a concert chronicling the defiance and resistance of Jewish prisoners at Terezin.
None of which means much to a group of Holocaust survivors who are protesting “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” because of the Claims Conference’s decision to give the production $50,000 while they say the needs of poor survivors are going unmet.
“Another 20 or more survivors could have been taken care of with that $50,000,” said Leo Rechter, president of the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors.
The Oct. 6 concert is the latest skirmish in the long-running battle between representatives of needy survivors and the Claims Conference, which sets aside part of its holdings for educational projects that keep alive the memory of the Holocaust.
Noting that the Claims Conference has announced it will largely run out of money in four years, Rechter said the organization should have participated in the concert “with a token dollar and explained that it wanted to spend the rest of its money providing needy survivors with a shred of dignity in their last days.”
David Mermelstein, an officer of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, said simply: “It doesn’t make sense spending money on anything now other than needy survivors — and there are plenty of them.”
Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, the full name of which is the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, pointed out that the $50,000 is part of the $18 million the organization has set aside each year for education, research and documentation of the Holocaust. That amount represents about 10 percent of the amount the Claims Conference distributes annually, he said.
Schneider said the concert being performed next month was so powerful when it was presented in Prague last year that it was decided to stage it in Washington and to invite members of the Obama administration, members of Congress and the diplomatic corps.
“It is important for us to be involved because it shows what happened during the Shoah,” he said.
Schneider said the performance would be taped for broadcast on PBS, that a curriculum would be developed for classrooms based on it and that a foundation and website would also be created.
But David Schaecter, president of the Miami-based Holocaust Survivors Foundation, claimed the Claims Conference “has blown close to $250 million on [educational, research and documentation] projects in recent years, including grants to board members, having nothing to do with survivor needs. How in God’s name can the Jewish world allow this diversion of holy money while survivors are suffering?”