Hungarian Holocaust survivors to receive reparations

Government settles ongoing feud with the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany.

Holocaust survivors 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Holocaust survivors 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán settled an ongoing feud with the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany on Saturday, signing a deal to resume providing reparations to Hungarian Holocaust survivors located abroad.
In 2007, Hungary pledged $21 million to be distributed over five years to native Holocaust survivors, facilitated in part by the Claims Conference.
A new settlement was to be signed last year before Budapest’s decision to freeze money transfers.
Budapest cited concerns over bookkeeping and transparency regarding the disbursement of the funds and sought the return of $12.6m. that the government said it gave the Claims Conference.
The Claims Conference said it only received $8m. for distribution among Hungarian Holocaust survivors living outside that country.
The money was transferred initially from the treasury to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok, a committee of government officials and Jewish representatives. Last year the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice said that based on the report submitted by the Claims Conference to date, “it is impossible to identify the individuals eligible for compensation.”
However, Gustav Zoltai, the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), told The Jerusalem Post that the issue came down to a simple problem of mistaken identities.
“The Claims Conference did not make this money disappear,” he said. Rather, the Claims Conference’s list of survivors in Israel did not match the list of survivors held by the Hungarian government due to refugees arriving in Israel and Hebraicizing their names.
“They could not identify the persons. That was the problem,” he said.
Speaking with the Post shortly before the completion of the deal, György Szabó, president of the Mazsok, said the negotiations took five months, but that all outstanding issues had been resolved.
According to a report from the Hungarian MTI news agency posted on the Mazsihisz website, the government will begin transferring the funds, totaling $5.6m., within three days in a process overseen by the international auditing company KPMG.
The issue of transparency will be a significant one at this week’s meeting of the board of the Claims Conference, which is comprised of representatives of Jewish communities and organizations from around the globe.
Chairman Julius Berman has come under fire due to a controversy surrounding a 2001 anonymous tip-off letter detailing several fraudulent restitution applications which resulted in the launching of two internal probes that failed to uncover what would later turn out to be a $57m. fraud committed over a period of 16 years.
During an interview with the Post in May, Berman denied having any knowledge that there was anything wrong before 2009, when the fraud was uncovered. At the time of the interview, the Claims Conference had laid all blame at the feet of Karl Brozik, who conducted the first probe and has since passed away.