An April 10 Post op-ed by Isi Leibler ("It's time to reform the Claims Conference") included numerous errors and inaccuracies, many of them repetitive of ancient shibboleths that have not reflected the realities of the Claims Conference for years. Here is the truth about the Claims Conference:
1. Transparency - Contrary to Leibler's assertions the Claims Conference is entirely transparent. Every year, it is subject to an audit by Ernst & Young. The entire financial statement resulting from that audit is posted on the Claims Conference Web site at www.claimscon.org/forms/audit-05.pdf.
The net assets of the Claims Conference as of the last audit, December 31, 2005, are not, as alleged, in the "billions of dollars," but $900 million, all earmarked for specific purposes such as payments to heirs of property in the former East Germany, to fund allocations that have been made, distribution to designated survivors and heirs, and to provide for the long-term needs of Jewish victims of Nazism.
In addition, every single Claims Conference allocation appears on its Web site, including the recipient, the amount and the purpose. The detailed guidelines of the criteria by which various allocations are made also appear on the Web site.
2. Efficiency - Reflecting the efficiency of the organization is the fact that the Claims Conference's Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers has, in a span of five years, paid $1.4 billion to 177,000 Holocaust survivors and victims' heirs in 75 countries.
The organization processed 283,000 applications in eight languages, and answered, on average, 8,400 telephone calls, 1,200 letters, and 1,000 emails every week. The Claims Conference also proactively researched documentation for claims in 150 archives scattered in 29 countries, in order to meet the requirements of the German Foundation that funded the program.
During those five years, the Claims Conference continued to negotiate with the German Foundation to include more survivors in the program. Due to Claims Conference persistence, certain survivors who had performed slave or forced labor in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria were able to be paid, though they had not been eligible when the program was established in 2000.
The Claims Conference also negotiated, and obtained, additional significant funds from the German Foundation in order to pay the maximum permitted amount under the German Foundation law to living former slave and forced laborers, and to pay certain heirs of victims the highest amount possible given the resources of the German Foundation.
3. Property Recovery - The Claims Conference's aggressive negotiations in 1990 with the German government allowed heirs to file claims for East German properties stolen in the 1930s. Had the Claims Conference not intervened during German reunification, those properties would have been forever lost to Jewish owners and heirs.
During those negotiations, the Claims Conference also won the right to recover properties that were not claimed by the German-mandated deadline of 1992, thereby preventing those properties from reverting to the state or to the wartime "Aryan" owners. The operations regarding the recovery of property in Germany are overseen by a lay committee.
The Claims Conference established a "Goodwill Fund" to compensate heirs who came forward after the German 1992 deadline, whose property the Claims Conference had recovered, and who met the Fund's criteria. This fund was publicized around the world and on the Claims Conference Web site. Were it not for the Claims Conference's recovery of these properties, they would have been forever lost to the claimants.
Proceeds from the property recovery over and above the Goodwill payments are used to fund allocations, primarily to organizations and institutions providing vital social services to Jewish victims of Nazism in 40 countries.
4. Allocations - Claims Conference allocations are made with the input of a wide range of experts and after careful consideration of the needs of Jewish victims of Nazism in countries around the world. There are two professional advisory committees, comprising experts in various areas of Claims Conference allocations, which thoroughly review many of the applications for grants. Half of the members of the Claims Conference Allocations Committee are Holocaust survivors.
In Israel, the Claims Conference has allocated $400 million since 1995, effectively revolutionizing care to Holocaust survivors. Another $100 million has been allocated in Israel for 2007 and 2008. Claims Conference allocations have spurred a recognition and support network for the special needs of survivors, which largely did not exist before the Claims Conference assumed this responsibility.
Claims Conference funds in Israel provide vital home care to 11,000 Nazi victims, including assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, eating and housekeeping. The Claims Conference has also helped build and upgrade nursing homes and geriatric hospital units caring for survivors; establish day centers and rehabilitation facilities; build and renovate Amigour housing for Nazi victims; provide medical equipment and assistance; and in many other ways has vastly improved the quality of life for Nazi victims in the Jewish state as they age.
Detailed guidelines govern the allocation of Claims Conference funds.
The Claims Conference allocations program is operated according to very strict ethical principles. Clear written rules and procedures for members of committees and the Board of Directors are in place, including the disqualification from participation in the debate and vote on any prospective allocation to organizations and institutions with which they are affiliated.
5. Officers - Officers are elected by the Board of Directors for a period of one year. The next elections by the Board will take place in 12 weeks time.
Securing more than $60 billion in payments to Holocaust survivors has been a massive and complicated achievement. Unfortunately, it is far easier to criticize from the outside than to actually accomplish what the Claims Conference has done. Those involved in the work of the Claims Conference can be justly proud of this record.
The writer, a rabbi and former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is chairman of the Claims Conference.