Child Holocaust survivors.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The World Jewish Congress announced its opposition to continued Social Security payments to Nazi war criminals Wednesday, reversing a position that the global Jewish confederation has held for decades.
Reported by the Associated Press on Sunday, the American government’s policy of continuing to provide monetary benefits to people complicit in the Holocaust deported from the US created shock waves throughout the Jewish world and elicited a series of harsh condemnations. According to the AP’s investigation, war criminals who immigrated to America and were outed and subsequently expelled have collected millions in state benefits.
Yad Vashem termed the payments “maddening,” while Michael Schudrich, the New York-born chief rabbi of Poland, castigated Washington for “desecrat[ ing] the memory of the victims of the Shoah.”
Following the public outcry, the WJC released a statement to the press, explaining its aboutface on the matter and its support for a change in the law allowing those expelled for war crimes to retain their government benefits.
The WJC initially supported this policy, stating that an expedited exit of Holocaust perpetrators was “a goal sought at the time by Holocaust survivors who did want to have erstwhile Nazis and Nazi collaborators living in their midst.”
However, the WJC had expected that those convinced to leave would be prosecuted in their home countries, WJC president and former American ambassador to Austria Ronald Lauder explained.
“Sadly, this proved not to be the case. And we note with grave concern that other countries have also been paying social benefits to Nazi war criminals,” he said.
“The World Jewish Congress commends the Office of Special Investigations for its yeoman’s work over the years in exposing and deporting Nazi war criminals living in the US, and for stripping many of them of their Social Security benefits. At the same time, we continue to insist that all suspected Nazi criminals be put on trial. As US law does not allow for such trials in most cases, it is preferable that they take place in Germany, Austria, or in the respective suspects’ other countries of origin.”
The conflict between efforts to expel Nazis and the concessions necessary for the furtherance of this goal has led to a certain level of ambivalence in the reactions of some Jewish organizations, which have praised the government’s efforts, even while deploring the methods employed.
While the payments are “reprehensible,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told the The Jerusalem Post, “the Office of Special Investigations, which over many years has diligently worked to locate and prosecute Nazi war criminals living in the United States, was faced with a difficult dilemma, allow these individuals to continue to receive Social Security or go through legal processes that could have delayed their eviction for years.”
‘We are pleased that these abhorrent individuals are no longer in this country, but we still would like the legal authorities to look into ways to have the payments discontinued,” Foxman declared.
According to Bobby Brown, who until recently headed Project HEART, a Holocaust restitution initiative funded by the Israeli government, the United States and Europe “did not have a comprehensive policy on Nazi war criminals in the post Nuremberg trial era.”
Brown explained that because of efforts to rebuild Germany and counter the Soviets during the early days of the Cold War, “many Nazi criminals were tolerated, ignored, and even rehabilitated in senior positions” and efforts to pursue war criminals only began in the late ’80s.
“There never was, and there still isn’t, a comprehensive policy dealing with these war criminals.” Brown asserted.
“This travesty shows us once more that the United States and Europe never had a well thought out and comprehensive policy.”