Survivors of Auschwitz arrive to the former camp in Oswiecim.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Holocaust survivors had a tough uphill fight in obtaining German restitution monies distributed by the British government, according to newly released archival documents seen by the Jewish Chronicle.
According to the London-based Jewish newspaper, only 1,015 out of 4,206 applicants received any sort of payment under the London’s Nazi Persecution Compensation scheme, which was intended to disburse £1 million received from Berlin in 1964.
Over 900 files related to the program have this far been released, illustrating what the paper characterized as an overly strict process which excluded many who suffered under the Nazi regime.
According to the program’s criteria, only those who had been held in concentration camps or similar facilities were eligible, prompting England’s Jewish News
to criticize the government as guilty of “nitpicking” and “a certain amount of grudging short-temperedness with the applicants” which created a “bureaucratic nightmare” for survivors.
Government employees’ notes from the files printed by the British Jewish media at times seemed to reflect frustration and anger, with one official stating of a claimant that she “was as much the victim of her own nerves as anything – the Nazis do not seem to have actually done anything directly against her.”
Another survivor was termed “an unbalanced man who appears to have only revenge for the death of his wife and child as his purpose for living – or so he says.”
However, such pedantry may have been necessary, one official from the National Archives was quoted by the Jewish Chronicle as saying.
“The government wanted to help people and didn’t want to be callous or unfair, but people had to meet the criteria. Almost always, those rejected were met with a well-written and thought-out explanation,” said Dr. George Hay.
“More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, we are still learning about this appalling period in history,” said Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
“The opening of these important historical archives will help to shed light on the post-Holocaust issues faced by survivors, as well as allowing us to read what was likely to be the first written account many survivors gave of their experiences – no doubt they will prove to be essential academic and educational resources.”
The revelations of the post-war program were ill received in Israel, with Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, accusing British authorities of being “more concerned with strict rules and bureaucracy than with human suffering and showed no sympathy for the victims.”
“This kind of behavior was common in other countries too,” Avital told The Jerusalem Post, urging London to review the files of those survivors who remain alive.
Gideon Taylor of the World Jewish Restitution Organization characterized the attitude of the mid-century British bureaucrats who administered the program as an apparently “cold and unfeeling towards Holocaust survivors trying to rebuild their lives,” describing the period of history revealed by the archives as “a stark reminder that the struggle to complete the work of Holocaust restitution is not complete and that survivors are still with us.”
Asked about the allegations of British Holocaust survivors being denied appropriate compensation, Michael Newman of the Association of Jewish Refugees replied that such a characterization was “not quite accurate as the scheme was intended to provide compensation to British subjects who experienced Nazi persecution – not specifically Jewish Holocaust survivors.”
“Some of the files I saw yesterday – with the JC journalist – were, for example, British military or citizens, who were not Jewish,” he said. “Overall, the files are of great historical interest but the awards made seem to be arbitrary as the amounts – and the methodology to calculate an award – appears to be inconsistent. Above all, the archive attests to the atrocities that were committed and that – for the first time – reparations were paid.”
In recent years, Britain has been at the forefront of efforts to induce former Soviet states to implement restitution programs, with 50 British lawmakers writing to Warsaw in 2014 to demand that Poland pass a restitution law.
In an interview with the Post late last year, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Post-Holocaust Issues Envoy, Sir Eric Pickles, stated that Britain may soon begin a public relations campaign to convince Poles of the importance of Holocaust restitution.
“I think sometimes this has been forgotten and I think we need to raise the level of people’s understanding about this. There are more ways of getting to a particular problem than just appealing to government,” he said, suggesting a PR campaign in Poland.
Asked for comment, a Foreign Office representative told the Post on Thursday that “We do not comment on the papers of previous governments. We have released these files to the National Archives as part of our commitment to make our historic records available to the public.”