Germany expands compensation payments for aging Eastern Bloc victims of Nazism

"There's no Holocaust fatigue among Germany's leaders. They have the same sense of urgency we do," says Claims Conference official at conference.

holocaust survivors 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
holocaust survivors 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Following years of negotiations with the German government, the Claims Conference announced Thursday it had secured from Germany an estimated NIS 175 million in additional payments for at least 13,000 Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who have never received compensation. The New York-based organization concluded six months of intense negotiations with German treasury officials, at the end of which the German government agreed to reconsider previously rejected applicants for compensation from the Hardship Fund, which provides one-time grants to victims of Nazi persecution who had not received other payments because they could not apply for them from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Established in 1980 after five years of negotiations between West Germany and the Claims Conference, the fund offers one-time payments of some €2,556 to Eastern Bloc victims of Nazism. German and Claims Conference officials estimate that some 13,000 people, of them 7,500 currently living in Israel, will ultimately receive funds from the reopened application process. "This brings a small measure of justice to thousands of needy victims, most of whom have never received Holocaust-era compensation," said Stuart Eizenstat, a former Clinton administration deputy treasury secretary who led the negotiations on behalf of the Claims Conference. According to Eizenstat, Germany's leaders "have the same sense of urgency we do to make sure that we don't allow victims to pass away without some compensation in their own lifetimes." The efforts to obtain compensation for Eastern Bloc victims of Nazism - which led to the establishment of the Hardship Fund - came after the wave of emigration from the Soviet Union during the 1970's. The original Hardship Fund was expected to pay grants to some 80,000 victims over a two-year application period. But the fund remained open for another 27 years, granting compensation payments to over 325,000 victims, 180,000 of whom lived in Israel. During the original application process, another 100,000 applicants were turned down because they did not meet the criteria, which included proving a dramatic loss of earning power. The German government has been adamant for years in its refusal to allow rejected applicants to reapply. Thursday's agreement reopens the possibility of compensation from the Hardship Fund for an estimated 13,000 victims of Nazism living in 36 countries who have been barred from doing so until now. Of these, 7,500 live in Israel, 2,400 in the US and 1,500 in Germany. Forms for reapplying to the fund will be mailed to most potential grantees by Claims Conference employees in the coming days. The negotiations, which were concluded on Thursday, obtained additional benefits for Jewish victims of Nazism. Elderly Jews in eastern Europe receiving stipends from the German government will see those stipends raised to €240 per month as of January 1. For those living in EU member states, it's a modest rise from €219 per month, but those living in non-EU states such as Ukraine will see an increase of some 35% from the current stipends of just €178. The Germans also agreed to extend funding for subsidized home-care services for elderly victims through the beginning of 2010 so that funding is not disrupted by the German federal elections in September. The results of the negotiations demonstrate "that there's no Holocaust fatigue among the German leadership," said Eizenstat. "Even 60 years later, with a different generation of Germans, there's still a sensitivity to their responsibility for the Holocaust and their responsibility to try to compensate people, imperfectly to be sure, during their declining years."