A group of Holocaust survivors has brought a lawsuit against the State of Israel
for what they say is their rightful share of reparations monies paid to Israel
by the former West Germany under the 1953 Reparations Agreement between the two
The 270 men and women, most of them in their 80s, are part of
a group of Holocaust survivors known as the “Tehran children,” Jewish orphans
who fled Germanoccupied Poland for the USSR in 1939. In 1941, after a period of
incarceration in the Siberian Gulag, the children were allowed to travel with
the newly formed Polish Anders Army to Tehran. The children's parents had
been murdered by the Nazis in Poland or had died in Siberia.
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Agency set up a camp for the orphans in Tehran, and in 1943 they were taken by
ship to prestate Israel.
The first Holocaust survivors to arrive in Eretz
Israel, the plight of the parentless “Tehran children’ sent shockwaves through
the Jewish community.
According to Gad Weissfeld, the Tel Aviv lawyer
representing them pro bono, the case was first brought to court in 2002, when
the “Tehran children” filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv District Court against the
Finance Ministry and the Jewish Agency.
Though the court upheld their
claim, the state appealed, saying there was a statute of limitations, that the
suit had been filed too late and that it was therefore irrelevant.
not right for the state to raise such an argument,” Weissfeld told The Jerusalem
Eventually, in 2008, the case was transferred to the
Supreme Court, and in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the case should be
reheard in the Tel Aviv District Court.
The case finally opened last week
in the Tel Aviv District Court, and is being heard by Judge Drora
Since the case was first brought before the court in 2002,
several of the elderly “Tehran children” named in the original suit have
The current lawsuit centers on the issue of whether the plaintiffs,
as Holocaust survivors, are personally entitled to receive compensation payments
from the monies Israel received under the Reparations Agreement.
that agreement, which came into force in March 1953, Germany paid Israel a total
of 14 million marks over 14 years.
The “Tehran children” claim that they
are entitled to a share of that money.
According to Weissfeld, though the
reparations money was given to the State of Israel for the purpose of aiding
Holocaust survivors, the State used it for public projects instead.
money was officially given to help resettle what were termed ‘Holocaust
refugees,’ but instead Israel spent the money on general public use instead of
giving it to Holocaust survivors,” notes Weissfeld. “A great many people
benefitted from the money, but not the Holocaust survivors. They came here as
‘human dust,’ with absolutely nothing, and needed it for basic things like
housing and education.”
According to Weissfeld, in the 1950s, the
socialist governments believed that the money should not go to individuals but
to the general public.
“The ‘Tehran children’ didn’t get any support from
the state or the Jewish Agency, but on the other hand the state and the Jewish
Agency benefitted from the reparations money that was given to help the ‘Tehran
children,’” says Weissfeld.
Prof. Zeev Schuss, who came to Israel in 1943
as one of the “Tehran children,” is acting as a witness in the suit. He says
that the claimants are only asking for what they are entitled to under the
original Reparations Agreement.
“If you read [the agreement], you will
see that it says that Israel was supposed to use the money for resettlement and
rehabilitation of refugees,” Schuss says.
“It’s obvious that the
agreement was referring to refugees from the Shoah and not anyone else. But Ben-
Gurion said there would be no reparations, and instead the money would be used
to build the country. There’s a big difference between what the agreement said
and how the country interpreted it.
And that is the heart of this whole
The “Tehran children” are claiming entitlement to a payment of NIS
100,000 each, based on what they say they should have received in reparations
valued at today’s rates.
“It’s bupkis [small change],” says Schuss. “I
had to explain that word to the judge.”
Weissfeld says that though the
current suit is small, if it succeeds it could open the floodgates for similar
class action suits by other Holocaust survivors.
“It’s not a big suit
this time, but the ‘Tehran children’ are only a small group of survivors,”
“But behind the door are 500,000 Holocaust ‘refugees’ and
their descendants. If this case is successful, it opens that door for every
other Holocaust survivor to sue, and that suit could be worth NIS 50 billion.
It’s a real Pandora’s box.”
The hearings will continue in the Tel Aviv
District Court next month, and a final verdict is expected within a year.
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