A red rose lies at Gleis 17 (platform 17) holocaust memorial at a former cargo railway station in Berlin-Grunewald.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ongoing layoffs at the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany’s Tel Aviv office may be affecting how the restitution body services its clients, according to internal correspondence seen by The Jerusalem Post.
The New York-based conference is the primary Jewish communal interlocutor with Germany for Holocaust reparation issues, disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars to survivors worldwide every year. It employs over 180 staff members in Israel.
As the worldwide population of Holocaust survivors dwindles, the conference has begun cutting back on staff, with plans to let go of 41 employees this month. A further 39 layoffs are planned for September and 52 in December.
Conference officials contacted senior management in New York to discuss hiring an outside firm to help prepare those being dismissed to transition to another place of employment.
Their requests were ignored, an Israeli employee wrote in an email to the main office.
In response, the leadership of the organization sought to intimidate its Israeli branch, the employee asserted, stating that requests to ease staffers’ severance along with efforts by employees to organize resulted in the threat of local operations being moved to either New York or Germany.
Given the expected increase in applications the conference expects as a result of the launch of the Child Survivor Fund Conference in 2015, additional manpower was actually needed, rather than less, the employee wrote, adding that due to the layoffs, caseworkers will have to be pulled from assignments to assist in dealing with the new cases.
The employee further wrote that while the firings were inevitable, the conference could not ignore the ongoing need to answer calls or walk-ins from survivors just because it was cutting back on processing staff.
According to a 2015 report by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, some 45,000 Holocaust survivors in the country live below the poverty line.
Asked about the layoffs, a spokeswoman for the conference stated that Israeli operations had been significantly expanded in recent years due to the flood of incoming applications as eligibility for reparations was widened by Germany. Incoming claims were ten times higher in 2011 than 2010, necessitating a concomitant increase in temporary personal.
In 2014 the number of incoming claims dropped from a high of thirty one thousand to forty four hundred,” the spokeswoman said, explaining that “with this dramatic drop in applications, unfortunately we must part with the staff who were hired on a temporary basis to handle the temporary surge in applications.”
“These staff cuts will not affect Holocaust victims in Israel or the handling of their claims. We emphasize that these claims are being processed in Israel, and that any allegations that claims are being transferred from Israel to other offices overseas are false. The Claims Conference will continue to carry out its mission in Israel and to work for the welfare of Holocaust survivors all over the world,” she said.
Asked if the conference had issued any sort of ultimatum to its Israeli branch, the spokeswoman said that “we have no idea what you are talking about.”