Should Holocaust restitution money be used exclusively to help elderly
survivors, the youngest of whom are in their late 70s and 80s, or should some of
it go toward remembering the dead?
On Thursday the Allocations Policy Review
Committee, an ad-hoc group of officials from various Jewish organizations aimed
at representing a cross section of the Jewish world, will gather for a special
meeting in Jerusalem, where the issue – which has generated heated debate– will
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“People feel the prerogative should go to the survivors,
there’s no doubt about that,” explained Gregory Schneider, the executive vice
president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, better
known as the Claims Conference. “But the question is whether some of the money
should be allocated to remember those who did not survive.”
will meet for the second time and is expected to submit its findings to the
Claims Conference – the body tasked with representing Jewish victims of the
Nazis in talks over compensation with Germany – in July.
Last year the
Claims Conference allocated 18 out of its 284 million dollar annual budget
toward Holocaust educational programs at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance
Museum, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum and
others. In addition, the Claims Conference said roughly eight or nine million
went to building infrastructure for survivors in Israel and the rest was spent
on homecare and other services.
While some argue that such allocations
are appropriate and proportionate, others believe the frail health of the
victims of Nazi persecution requires the entirety of Holocaust funds be devoted
to helping them in their old age.
Some members of the Allocations Policy
Review Committee, who spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity, are in
favor of introducing a five-year moratorium on education spending.
are old survivors who are in desperate need of help right now and haven’t got
many years to live,” the member of the board said. “Until they pass away, we
should be giving all our money to them.”
Asked his opinion on the
proposal of a five-year suspension of education spending, Schneider said it
“If one were to say we don’t want to spend money on
education, let’s not confuse it with the idea of a moratorium, because four or
five years from now the money will be spent and there will be none left,” he
“As one very eloquent person said, ‘Don’t ask me to choose between
my mother and my daughter.’ There’s no question that the greatest money should
go to the survivors, but the question is whether it’s exclusive, and some
believe a small percentage should go to remembering those who didn’t survive,”
Another bone of contention has been the eight to nine million
dollar figure that the Claims Conference gives each year to projects like the
construction of hospital wards in Israel.
“On the one hand people say the
government needs to provide that to survivors,” Schneider said. “The argument in
favor is that this is done with the government at its request.
look at data of beds-perperson, there’s a shocking shortage in Israel. We only
contribute towards certain wards where there are elderly people, like geriatric
wards, not maternity wards. Then we take a survey of the number of people who
are survivors, and our funding is in relation to that number. We don’t
contribute anything to maintenance. If we say we’re not giving anything, then
it’s the survivor that suffers.”
Isi Leibler, a vocal critic of the
Claims Conference, who also writes a column for this newspaper, said he believed
the sums allocated by the organization for education and infrastructure were
inaccurate, and that in any case such spending was inappropriate.
ten percent figure on education spending is a misleading statistic because there
are other groups not identified as education,” he said. “On top, the
overwhelming issue is the projects of infrastructure not directly given to
Leibler added that he was not against allocating money toward
educational purposes, but that he believed survivors’ needs should take
precedence over Holocaust remembrance in the coming years.
Germany announced on Tuesday that it it will increase funds for Holocaust
survivors in 2012 by 15%. While it is uncertain how or whether the announcement
will influence the debate at Thursday’s meeting, Schneider said on Monday that
the vehemence with which the issue of Holocaust education spending was debated
last year abated after Berlin pledged to increase funding of welfare services
for Holocaust survivors.
“Traditionally, the debate is cooling off a
little bit because over the 18 months there’s been an infusion of money for
welfare,” he said. “The debate is sensible and appropriate. It’s a debate over
whether you think the money for the dead should be used to remember them.”