Holocaust survivors in Israel_311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An organization representing American Holocaust survivors and their descendants
has called for an independent probe of the leadership of the Claims Conference
in connection with a 2001 internal investigation that failed to uncover millions
of dollars in fraud, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
restitution body was established in 1951 “to secure... a small measure of
justice for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution” through “a combination of
negotiations, disbursing funds to individuals and organizations, and seeking the
return of Jewish property lost during the Holocaust,” according to the
organization’s mission statement.
A letter from Max Liebman, senior vice
president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their
Descendants, to conference Chairman Julius Berman, echoed calls for further
investigation and clarification by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.
While thanking Berman and
his colleagues for their dedication to Holocaust survivors, Liebman, who sits on
the board of the conference, noted that “many of our members are deeply
concerned by the recent reports that indications of the multi-million dollar
fraud that has been perpetrated against the Claims Conference may have come to
the attention of senior leaders of the organization in 2001.”
Brozik, who in 2001 was the head of the Claims Conference’s German office,
received an anonymous note alleging that New York-based conference employee
Semen Domnitser was involved in the approval of several suspicious restitution
An investigation led by Brozik failed to uncover the fraud. It
continued until 2009 and netted $57 million.
Following Domnitser’s recent
trial and the public revelation of the 2001 letter, conference spokeswoman
Hillary Kessler- Godin told The Forward that the termination of the internal
investigation was Brozik’s responsibility.
However, the JTA subsequently
reported that a paralegal working for Berman’s law firm launched a second
investigation, which also terminated without uncovering the fraud.
time, Berman was pro bono legal counsel and a member of the board, according to
a Claims Conference annual report cited by The Forward.
Liebman wrote Berman, that “the circumstances surrounding both the June 2001
anonymous warning and the inquiries that were subsequently undertaken need to be
independently reviewed, as has been recommended by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan
Liebman said that his organization “formally request[s]” an
inquiry as to “why no action was ever taken following receipt” of the original
whistleblower letter and why “the existence of the 2001 letter and of the
internal and external examinations of the charges made in that letter was not
disclosed to the Claims Conference board.”
This inquiry, he insisted,
must, “at the very least,” be referred to the conference’s
Liebman asserted that he did not question the integrity of
Reuven Merhav, who was recently tasked with looking into the matter on behalf of
the board, but that “the process of providing answers to the entire board...
must be able to withstand any and all scrutiny.”
According to Liebman,
since there were only a “limited number of individuals” with knowledge of the
2001 letter, an “independent inquiry” by the ombudsman should “not be
time-consuming” and could be completed before the next board meeting next
The Claims Conference did not immediately respond to a request for