'Unacceptable to bring to trial judge who helped Holocaust survivors'

At the heart of the controversy is a 2002 German law granting pensions to Jews who worked voluntarily while interned in ghettos.

Hungarian Jews arrive in Auschwitz-Birkenau (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hungarian Jews arrive in Auschwitz-Birkenau
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The pending trial of a German judge accused of “harming the reputation of German courts” by his work on Holocaust restitution has Israeli survivors up in arms, taking their case directly to Berlin’s envoy in Tel Aviv.
Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse, whose grandfather served in the SS, has come under increasing scrutiny by his colleagues over his judicial activism in seeking to provide Israeli survivors with pensions, sometimes despite a lack of paperwork required by the German government.
According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, von Renesse has been suffering harassment for several years, which is now culminating in a trial due to commence on March 10.
At the heart of the controversy is a 2002 German law granting pensions to Jews who worked voluntarily while interned in ghettos.
Due to the unexpectedly large number of those who applied, around 70,000, 90 percent of requests were denied on the basis of a lack of documentation. Such documentation would have been nearly impossible to receive in the ghetto, let alone keep throughout the period of the Holocaust.
Speaking with Haaretz in 2013, von Renesse described how he set up an office in Israel to meet directly with survivors and hear testimony relating to their work status during the war.
He slammed the German judiciary for its attitude toward corroborating documentation, stating that, “We, as Germans, can’t say to them, ‘It’s your fault you don’t have papers.’ On the contrary. It’s our fault.”
“I was shocked that the judges, my colleagues, didn’t turn to historians and experts, and denied the claims of the survivors based on unscientific sources like Wikipedia,” he complained.
According to that same report, von Renesse suffered from an ongoing campaign of harassment, with disciplinary complaints and offices transfers breaking up the flow of his work and his docket of cases being given to another judge.
And while the Bundestag passed legislation clearing up many of the documentation issues and approving retroactive pension payments out of “a sense of historical responsibility for Holocaust survivors, who experienced untold suffering under National Socialism,” that does not seem to have stopped the controversy over von Renesse’s work.
“I have spoken to Judge von Renesse, all the details are true – he told me that the complaint was filed against him by the other judges who did not like his unconventional way of working,” Colette Avital, the head of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.
“We find it unacceptable that a Judge who has helped Holocaust survivors should be punished for that.”
On Tuesday Avital met with the German ambassador, handing him the letter on behalf of 56 Holocaust survivor groups under the aegis of her organization, who felt “deeply offended by the news of the trial and who have a profound debt of gratitude to the judge for his invaluable help.”
While Avital said she did not want to involve herself in the trial, she felt that given that the issue had previously been solved, “such a trial now will have damaging effects on the image of the Federal Republic of Germany – a country that has done so much toward compensating Holocaust survivors in the past 60 years.”
“We find it unacceptable to bring to trial a person who helped Holocaust survivors to achieve their rights.”
JTA contributed to this report.