BERLIN – The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced last week that it had secured approximately $250 million from the German government to be paid to Holocaust survivors who were children at the time of the war.
Beginning on January 1, one-time lump-sum payments of €2,500, or about $3,280, will be paid to the approximately 75,000 remaining Holocaust survivors all over the world in reparations for the psychological pain and suffering that they suffered as children as victims of the Holocaust.
The amount is set to be paid to anyone who was born between January 1, 1928, and the end of the war in August 1945, and who was put into a camp or ghetto, went into hiding, or had to live under a false identity for at least six months.
The agreement was announced just days after the conclusion of the Claims Conference’s first-ever symposium of Jewish child survivors.
Hailing it as a “landmark agreement” that took a year of negotiation with the German Finance Ministry, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, Greg Schneider, told The Jerusalem Post that these were some of the most difficult negotiations that the conference has ever held.
“Many of the people who we’re speaking about were already receiving payments or pensions,” Schneider said. “So the German government was wary about double payments and giving additional payments to the same people.”
Almost all of these child survivors received a onetime hardship payment or had been receiving pensions, said Stuart Eizenstat, the conference’s special negotiator for these sessions and the former US ambassador to the EU.
Despite the government’s wariness, both Schneider and Eizenstat said that one of the key negotiating points was that fact that much of the trauma experienced as child can have a very late onset.
“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 and are resulting in late-onset problems that only now are manifesting as physical and psychological symptoms in the survivor’s advanced age,” Schneider said in the Claims Conference statement.
“This was a remarkable breakthrough in several respects,” Eizenstat said.
“It’s the first time the Germans have ever paid people who have been paid by other funds. The Germans had a bright line not to pay people twice. We were able to convince them that there was a unique deprivation so that they could make an exception.”
This was the first time that child survivors have been recognized as a special category of survivors, after “decades of trying,” he added.
The agreement is still subject to approval by the Bundestag, which is set to either vote on it or put it to a committee in the next few weeks, Eizenstat said.
Eizenstat and the other negotiators had been in discussions with German government “on and off” for more than a year.
On Wednesday, August 27, Eizenstat sat down for a two-hour one-on-one session with German representatives, and then for another six-hour session the next day to hammer out details.
“Given the advanced age of survivors, if we were going to do it, it had to be done now,” he said. “We’re losing them at a rate of eight per year.”
Schneider, another one of the negotiators, said the whole process was imbued with a sense of finality, particularly as the number of people who were in what’s know as the “first circle” – those who were rounded up and put in ghettos – dwindles.
“Everyone around the table, on both sides, knew that these years are the final opportunity for Germany to make a gesture,” he said.
“No one is saying Germany hasn’t paid very larges sums of money, they have.
No amount of money can make up for the suffering, but these are the final years.
Any acknowledgment has to be done soon, and the conversations were infused with that knowledge.”
“And honestly, it was palpable.
You felt it [during the talks],” he continued.
“It is a mixture of business and financial and moral and it’s all there. Sometimes it’s friendly, sometimes tense, always professional. Sometimes people shared personal stories, sometimes it was about big budget issues; it was a complicated combination of issues.”
“I’m continually inspired by this, the second and third generation of the Germans, who step up and meet their obligations to the survivors,” said Eizenstat, who has been on negotiating teams for billions of dollars of claims against the German government in the past. “It’s a great testament to the German people.”