When I survived the Shoah as a child in hiding, I could never have imagined that nearly 70 years later, I would be helping shape the future of an organization that changed history by demanding, receiving and distributing payments and aid to hundreds of thousands of survivors living around the world.
Yet here I am, recently returned from the annual board meeting of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), where discussion is as vigorous as ever about how best to help the Holocaust victims who need assistance and how to obtain a small measure of justice for those who have still not received it. This year, as the number of survivors declines, the discussions revolved around the question of the priorities that the organization should focus on in the coming years.
The board unequivocally and unanimously agreed that, for as long as there are Jewish Nazi victims, the organization’s focus remains the immediate needs of these victims worldwide, including providing homecare, food, medicine and other services for vulnerable survivors. In 2015, the Claims Conference will allocate an estimated $390 million from all sources, that is, for all intents and purposes, a 45 percent increase in funding for homecare obtained in recent negotiations with the German government. According to the agreements we reached, this funding will increase annually through 2017.
The board also noted that direct compensation payments from the Claims Conference, pensions and one-time payments, increased substantially from $338m. in 2012 to $402m. in 2013.
Additional homecare issues and funding beyond 2017, as well as other unmet, critical needs of the survivors – such as dental services – will continue to be pressed in negotiations with the German government, in which I participate. Every year, a Claims Conference delegation that includes survivors sits across the table from German officials to press for payments and convince their government to fulfill its obligation to aid survivors as long as they are with us.
Even as we have continued and will continue to make the needs of Holocaust victims our priority, we are painfully aware that the number of victims living among us seven years from now will be half of those alive today. And we also know that as the Shoah moves away from the realm of memory into a more distant history, the need to preserve and transmit its legacy grows more urgent. I am a survivor, but in a generation, children may never meet one. Yet it is vital for all of us that they and the next generations learn of the Holocaust and its lessons.
Throughout its 63 years, the Claims Conference has continued to rise to the challenges of the day and create history by charting new courses for survivor payments and funding for their aid. We have not only responded to the needs of the time, but have anticipated them and thus, have created opportunities where none had previously existed.
I was privileged to serve on a Strategic Vision Panel that worked throughout past year to shape a vision for the future of the Claims Conference. As I look to the time when, much to our regret, survivors will no longer be here to tell their stories, I believe that the Claims Conference can yet make history again by parlaying its decades of experience into a leading role, helping shape and direct the future of Holocaust education, research and documentation.
Last year the board of directors established three panels of a Special Planning Commission whose mission was to help guide the organization into its future, as circumstances change. It established that, based on the recommendations of the first panel, the Strategic Vision Panel, the Claims Conference will develop a strategic plan to leverage its already extensive expertise, gathered over the past 20 years in the area of Shoah education, research and documentation.
Two additional panels worked simultaneously on issues of governance and demography. The Board Structure and Governance Panel reviewed and made recommendations with respect to strengthening the structure of the organization’s board and, thus, increasing the efficiency and transparency of governance of the Claims Conference.
Further, the Demography Panel recommended that the Claims Conference gather all the necessary data on Jewish Nazi victims worldwide – numbers, gender, life expectancy, country of residence – in order to assist in planning for the social welfare needs of survivors. The creation of a special unit for demographic research and policy was approved by the board and will continue to process this critical analysis.
Even as we continue to negotiate for survivor payments and care, while we ensure that victims are not abandoned in their old age, we are duty bound to victims to begin planning remembrance. We have always worked to make sure that the survivors are remembered during their lifetimes. Even as we pursue vigorously this endeavor, we must now begin to work to make sure that the world continues to remember them when they are gone.
The writer is chairperson of The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel and a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.