In their later years, Jews who survived the Holocaust as children — whether in concentration camps, ghettos or in hiding — have experienced psychological problems such as nightmares and health issues related to malnutrition as children.
Now, for the first time, a $250 million fund has been established by Germany and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for the approximately 70,000 to 75,000 Jewish child survivors worldwide. Each child survivor born after Jan. 1, 1928 will receive a one-time payment of about $3,280 to help pay for those war-related medical needs. About 15 percent of those survivors live in the United States. All are eligible, regardless of wealth, and despite the fact that Germany has already paid them other compensation.
Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said the special medical needs of child survivors have been discussed with Germany for several years. He said the talks intensified last year and that an agreement was finally hammered out in negotiations two weeks ago in Germany.
“Our argument is that people may have been receiving German pensions for many years because they were in camps or ghettos, but that Germany should acknowledge the special needs of child survivors,” he said. “During their formative years they were in camps, ghettos or in hiding and they suffered psychological trauma. …
“The suffering endured by these young Nazi victims, including devastating separation from parents at a critical time in a child’s development, as well as witnessing unimaginable atrocities, deprivation from proper nutrition, and a range of injurious experiences has had a cumulative effect.
“They are having night terrors for the first time because of that trauma,” he said. “In addition, they have had medical issues that have occurred only later in life. If they did not have proper dental care as a child, they are experiencing dental problems now like the need for dentures. And if they did not have milk as a child, they have a calcium deficiency and there is a greater likelihood of osteoporosis and other skeletal diseases. … For everyone, Germany’s recognition of the deprivation they experienced as children is essential.”
Child survivors interviewed expressed shock at the small amount being offered, but Schneider suggested to The Jewish Week that the amount should be seen as no more than a token recognition of their suffering.
“No amount of money can compensate for what they suffered, but for a very poor person who needs dentures, $3,300 makes a big difference.”
Stefanie Seltzer, president of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants, said of the amount, “Of course more [money] would be better, but we have had to be realistic.”
In an email, Seltzer said her organization is “keenly aware of the great needs of the survivors; of the effects of the trauma on their (our) continuing lives. Yes, we have all continued to live in the shadow of these experiences, living with the daily pain of our losses, our memories, our lives without parents, without families. The effects do not diminish with the passage of time.”
In the email, sent from Poland, where she traveled after attending her organization’s 26th annual conference in Berlin in the days leading up to the reparations negotiation, Seltzer pointed out that child survivors “do experience physical effects of the suffering; there are many manifestations as shown in various studies of the long term effects on the lives of survivors.”
“Yes, as we have aged, the losses are felt even more keenly,” she wrote. “There is an absolute void in our lives that has also been part of the lives of our children, now also adults. The physical deprivations and circumstances of survival have led to serious health issues.”
All members of the German negotiating team, as well as some members of the German legislature, attended portions of the conference. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, the Claims Conference’s special negotiator, said he believes that was a key reason the negotiations succeeded.
“It drove home to the German government and the public the special suffering of the children, and that it left lasting scars – no one was exempt,” he said. “Also, with the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they wanted to do a special gesture.”
Eva Fogelman, a licensed psychologist and co-director of the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, which has interviewed 1,500 child survivors since 1981, said many child survivors only began “confronting” their losses in their later years.
“They had no time to mourn after the war,” she said. “They were busy raising a family and working. But retirement often brings on a mourning period. [The feeling of loss] becomes more prevalent as they get older because of their own imminent death. They think more about the parents they knew or did not know, and what life might have been like if they had a father or mother. They are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder that might have been dormant all these years and has now been triggered by such things as a reunion of people from a DP [displaced persons] camp.”
Colette Avital, a former Israeli consul general in New York who was part of the negotiating team in Germany as chair of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, an umbrella group of 54 organizations, told The Jewish Week: “I know the anguish and how those people suffer today, especially when they are getting older and everything comes back to them. And I know that no money in the world could give back their childhood or make amends for what they went through. But this is a gesture of recognition.”
Eizenstat told The Jewish Week that the special suffering of child survivors was why Germany made an exception to its “iron-clad rule” about not making a second type of payment to survivors.
“We convinced [Germany] that they had a unique form of suffering,” he said.
The agreement was also special because, like the homecare agreement reached a year ago, Germany agreed to the extra payments on the condition that it was done as a joint partnership with the Claims Conference.
The Claims Conference, using money it obtained by selling heirless Jewish property in East Germany, is to pay about $70 million of the $250 fund. The German government is to pay the other $180 million, according to Eizenstat.
The Germans initially wanted all child survivors to submit letters from medical doctors or psychologists attesting to the Holocaust-related problems they are now experiencing. But Eizenstat said Claims Conference negotiators said many countries have national health insurance programs that would pay all or most all of their medical expenses.
In addition, he said they argued that such a requirement would be “extremely difficult to administer and that many survivors don’t want it known they have had such problems — it’s an embarrassment issue. We said just give them the cash and if they wanted to use it for medical or dental payments, that would be fine.”
Eizenstat said he found Germany’s decision to make this payment “inspirational and a demonstration that even the second and third generations in Germany feel an obligation to survivors, especially at a time when there is a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”
The German government estimates the number of child survivors at 70,000; the Claims Conference puts the figure at 75,000. Germany has agreed to pay the entire $3,300 stipend for all child survivors above 70,000.
The entire deal is subject to approval of the German Bundestag or legislature, as well as the board of the Claims Conference. The fund is expected to become operational next Jan. 1; application details will be announced after the fund is approved.
To be eligible, a child survivor must have been born after Jan. 1, 1928, and been in a concentration camp, ghetto (or similar place of incarceration in accordance with the German Slave Labor Program), or in hiding or under false identity for a period of at least six months under Nazi occupied territory or 12 months in Axis countries.