‘Falsehood flies – and the truth comes limping after it’

The historic endeavor is not yet finished, and the Claims Conference will carry on with it for as long as is needed.

By JULIUS BERMAN
July 23, 2015 21:05
holocaust yad vashem

A Holocaust survivor shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It is understandable that a highly emotive subject such as Holocaust restitution and compensation would raise significant scrutiny and attention.

At the Claims Conference, we welcome wide and detailed public scrutiny, but what we do not welcome is the spreading of false and malicious information meant to personally discredit individuals, many of whom work on behalf of Holocaust survivors for no pay.

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As the organization dedicated to advocating for Holocaust survivors, we are scrupulous in our attempts to be as transparent as possible, which is why we undergo regular audits by KPMG, one of the Big Four auditing firms in the world, and by the German government, the source of most of our funds.

Furthermore, I invite all readers to go to our website, www.claimscon.org, where you will read stories of survivors who benefit from our work, see our financial statements in detail, view a list of every single grant we have made for 2015, and, it is hoped, gain a greater understanding for the scope and significance of our mission. Join our mailing list and Like our Facebook page for updates on developments.

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 The facts, open to all, will do a far better job than anything else of discrediting our perennial opponents than anything we can say here.

However, it is also important to lay out some of our recent important work and address some of the central accusations in order to demonstrate how absurd the lies have become. Some of our more outrageous detractors frequently rely on public unawareness of the truth and shamelessly use the image of Holocaust survivors to settle old personal or professional scores.

Over the past three years, 93,000 Holocaust victims have received Claims Conference compensation payments for the first time.

This year, child survivors who lost their youth to terror and atrocity, who were often separated from parents whom they never again saw, have begun to receive payments from the new Claims Conference Child Survivor Fund: more than 21,000 child survivors so far, with another estimated 50,000 to receive payments over the next 18 months.

Overall in 2014, the Claims Conference distributed more than €350 million directly to Holocaust survivors around the world; that is €50m. more than the previous year.

Over the course of 2015, thousands of elderly, frail Shoah victims will be able to get homecare for the first time funded by the Claims Conference in addition to the 63,000 who already receive it. In 2014, the Claims Conference funded $304m. worth of services such as homecare, food and medicine. Again, this year, we are able to increase that amount by more than $60m.

Funding for all of these benefits for Holocaust victims, and more, result from one organization: the Claims Conference.

These achievements result from our ongoing negotiations with the German government. We would not relent until the experiences of additional survivors were recognized with payments; the lifelong trauma of child survivors was acknowledged; and the frail elderly who need help to remain living in their homes were able to receive it.

And these are just some examples of the work we do for survivors, day in and day out. Every day, across the globe, we process applications for compensation, including going to great lengths to help document survivors’ claims; make payments in 78 countries and territories from numerous pension and one-time payment programs; and allocate funds for vital services such as homecare, food and medicine for more than 130,000 victims of the Shoah.

The Claims Conference is an international organization, with a board of directors that is composed of representatives of Jewish national and international organizations around the world. For sure, there is much more to be done but, once again, our core mission of advocating for survivors has been overshadowed in the public eye by false allegations. Once again, our care for victims of the Shoah has become less important in the media than nonsensical accusations that are taken at face value.

It is time to set the record straight, once and for all, on a few points that have arisen in recent coverage: False allegations of ongoing fraud: A large part of recent media coverage focuses on the fraud discovered six years ago by the Claims Conference and reported to US federal authorities, which culminated in a trial two years ago at which Claims Conference leadership – volunteer and staff – testified for the prosecution. Various independent reviews, including by the Deloitte independent accounting firm, hired by the German government, have been concluded and improvements made to control mechanisms. Recently, there have been all sorts of reports of ongoing fraud, even new fraud in Ukraine – reports that simply have no basis in fact. Learning lessons and remedying deficiencies was required, but just as the criminal justice system and the German government have moved forward, so must we. Survivors deserve and require that we do.

Ombudsman: The Claims Conference Leadership Council, composed of 14 independent board members from different continents, voted unanimously not to renew the contract of our former ombudsman, Shmuel Hollander, who is alleging that the cause was a report he wrote two years ago. Yet, Mr. Hollander’s 18-month contract was renewed six months after he wrote that report, clearly demonstrating the absurdity of this claim. It is a very good thing that the Claims Conference has an ombudsman.

And, it is even better that, while the Claims Conference reaches an estimated 200,000 survivors every year (either via direct compensation payments or welfare services), only a few hundred have submitted complaints to the ombudsman, 40 percent of which are inquiries about the status of their applications.

The exceedingly low volume of complaints, and the lack of major substantive issues, should be celebrated, but they also necessitate a smaller staff, freeing resources that can be better allocated. That the first occupant of this office feels slighted by the organization is a shame. Again, the Claims Conference is learning lessons, including about the size of the infrastructure needed to handle such a low volume of correspondence, and is in the midst of a search for an independent ombudsman who will bring honor to the office.

Independent review: The Claims Conference is subject to numerous audits and controls on an ongoing basis. In addition to internal audits and reviews of its programs, the Claims Conference is subject to audits by the KPMG independent auditor and the German government.

Attorney-General’s Office: Nearly two years ago, lawyers representing certain claimants wrote a letter to the New York State Attorney-General’s Office complaining about the status and treatment of their claims. The attorneys then issued a press release indicating that they had filed a complaint with the A-G’s Office (which was carried in the press, so recent so-called “revelations” of this are irresponsible).

At that time, although the Claims Conference had not been contacted by the A-G’s Office, we reached out to it to begin a dialogue. That has included answering questions it has and providing information it seeks. That has been an ongoing process, in which we continue to be engaged.

Regardless of these falsehoods that keep on spreading, the Claims Conference will continue its important mission, and we will continue to work under complete transparency as long as there are Holocaust survivors whose vital needs we will endeavor to address.

The critics say that their priority is the welfare of Holocaust victims. We say so as well; the difference is that we don’t only talk the talk, we walk the walk. As always, our work continues. This historic endeavor is not yet finished, and the Claims Conference will carry on with it for as long as is needed.

The writer is president of the Claims Conference.


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