Recently, The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims
Conference) has come under a vicious attack from Isi Leibler in “Scandal at the
Claims Conference” (July 13) and “The arrogance of Claims Conference leaders”
(July 22). While the Claims Conference should certainly not be immune from
criticism, Leibler has engaged in irresponsible invective and baseless charges
against an organization that for nearly 60 years has been the leading
international advocate for the rights of Holocaust victims and the primary
source in caring for their needs.
Leibler’s diatribe raises many
questions that need to be answered with the established facts. The most
important assertion that Leibler makes is about the fraud perpetrated against
Claims Conference compensation programs. Firstly, it was the Claims Conference –
and not as implied by Leibler, the FBI – that discovered the fraud, a
sophisticated criminal scheme, in which expertly falsified and phony documents
were submitted to programs that make payments to Jewish victims of Nazism. These
programs have been targeted by persons seeking to extract payments to which they
were not entitled.
Upon discovering the fraud, the Claims Conference
contacted US federal law enforcement authorities and notified the German
government. In addition, the Claims Conference mounted and continues a vigorous
and thorough investigation to determine the scope and source of the fraud,
including a review of all applications and the creation of a task force. All of
this information was made available to the board and the public.
to Leibler’s assertion that the organization has “trivialized” the issue and
been “dismissive,” the Claims Conference has been aggressive in documenting the
fraud and bringing all possible evidence to the US federal law enforcement
authorities. Believing that this was of public interest, the Claims Conference
released a statement explaining the events and provided all the information it
was able within the context of an ongoing federal investigation.
issue is being treated with the utmost gravity and seriousness, and it is
appalling for Leibler to impugn the hardworking Claims Conference staff and
dedicated voluntary board members who are working on this issue. The Claims
Conference is outraged that criminals would exploit programs that are intended
to assist needy Holocaust victims for their own financial gain. We have
implemented additional measures to protect the system from being taken advantage
of in the future. We also want to reassure the community that no survivor
payments were affected during the fraud.
TO CITE another example of the
gross irresponsibility reflected in the Leibler articles is the spurious claim
that $1 billion is allegedly available that could be used to aid the poor, aged
and infirm survivors. In the words of Leibler: “How can these directors sit
around a table and not raise an outcry that with an investment portfolio of more
than $1 billion in liquid funds, more of this money is not employed to ease the
lives of the elderly, ailing survivors living in abject poverty?” Indeed, how
could they? And, why would they? If that assertion was true, surely each of the
64 unpaid directors, each with an impeccable record of working in major Jewish
organizations throughout the world, should be thrown out. However this figure
and the overall assertion is a complete myth, like so much else that was
Firstly, $211 million of that sum is to be paid to the heirs of
property appropriated by the Nazis. The source of most of the Claims Conference
funds is recovered property in the former East Germany, and heirs, under Claims
Conference rules, are entitled to receive recoveries.
million of these funds has already been allocated for home care, medicine, food
and other vital services and programs. The Claims Conference committed the money
to agencies which provide home care services to needy survivors.
funds will be transferred to those agencies when receipts are received. Until
such time, the money remains with the Claims Conference. Of course, all of the
interest accrued during this time will also be made available for home care and
Finally, out of the remaining $543 million, the Claims
Conference allocates $136 million per year for social services for Holocaust
survivors and a very small fraction for Holocaust remembrance and education.
This means that this amount will last for only four more years. Unfortunately,
Leibler and his sources either ignored this fact, or were unaware. What makes
this even more problematic is the fact that all the information, including
balance sheet and detailed explanation, is fully open and accessible to the
public and can be accessed through our Web site
To my mind, reporting the “billion dollar
myth” as fact is much worse than simply misstating a fact. Those that have
perpetrated this myth unfortunately mislead the poor survivors into believing
that there is a “pot of gold” on the other side of the locked door that, if
opened, would greatly alleviate the physical and mental conditions in which they
are suffering. This is the height of irresponsibility and is
HOWEVER, THE damage runs even deeper.
Conference has an urgent mission to explain the plight of Holocaust survivors to
the world audience and bring additional resources to alleviate their plight.
Negotiations with governments, 65 years after the end of the war and in the
midst of the world financial crisis, become more difficult every year. Despite
all of the obstacles, the Claims Conference has been uniquely successful in
increasing the amounts available for survivors.
It is outrageous to
undermine these delicate negotiations by making false accusations to the media
when the true facts are available in open sources.
The Claims Conference,
as the largest provider of home care, medicine and food for Holocaust survivors,
is painfully aware of the inadequacy of the current funds to meet their
worldwide needs. Furthermore, all of our demographic data indicates that
survivors’ needs will far outlast the next four years and the last available
Claims Conference funds.
Instead of falsely accusing the Claims
Conference of hoarding funds, we invite all those who are truly interested in
survivors’ needs, not to engage in malicious and unfounded gossip, but to help
spread the word about the needs of survivors and engage in an intensive
fund-raising drive to benefit Nazi victims around the world. Given the Claims
Conference’s knowledge about the needs of Nazi victims, we would be thrilled to
cooperate in such an endeavor, which could call attention to the needs among
these nowelderly survivors who suffered unprecedented horrors.
are engaged in assaulting an organization dedicated to survivors needs, others
fully comprehend that the Claims Conference is the primary vehicle for
alleviating survivors suffering.
Major philanthropists and foundations
have entrusted us to ensure that their money will see to survivors
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest
Jewish foundations in the world, has just announced a $10 million fund for
emergency needs for the victims of Nazism. To their credit, the Weinberg
Foundation trustees did the research, studied these issues and concluded that on
top of all of the Claims Conference contributions and our four-year spend-down
plan, additional funds are needed for survivors. They asked the Claims
Conference to administer the funds and their visionary leadership in providing
supplemental funds should be an example to all.
In the meantime, Claims
Conference work continues at full speed. We have already allocated more than
$215 million this year ($136 million from recovered property, another $80
million received through negotiations between the Claims Conference and the
German and Austrian governments, and other funds such as those provided to the
Claims Conference by the US Federal courts under various settlements) for home
care, medicine, food programs, social welfare services for Shoah survivors and
other programs in 46 countries.
Nevertheless, as we well know, the needs
of Holocaust victims are greater than the resources available. For this reason,
we need to work even harder and cannot be distracted from this vital mission by
hearsay and gossip.
The nearly 60-year historic endeavor to obtain
compensation and restitution for survivors of the Shoah and victims’ heirs has
been, and continues to be, unparalleled in Jewish and indeed human
Had it not accomplished so much and striven so mightily on
behalf of the survivors, the Claims Conference might not have received this
attention and been so bitterly criticized.
If obtaining $70 billion for
Holocaust victims; recovering property; providing food packages and home care;
and establishing a historical precedent for compensation and restitution means
that the Claims Conference will continue to be a target for perennial critics,
then let the critics continue writing, and we’ll continue helping survivors live
out their final years in greater comfort and dignity.
The writer is the
chairman of the Claims Conference.