Survivors seek more Holocaust funds

Petition asks that 60% of claims conference funds be spent in Israel.

yad vashem 298  (photo credit: AP)
yad vashem 298
(photo credit: AP)
Yad Vashem, the Jewish Agency and Holocaust survivor groups joined forces Sunday with Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan to demand more money from the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. They also demanded that Israel be given equal representation in the running of the Claims Conference. "If money continues to be allocated the way it has been, it will still be sitting in the bank when the last of the Holocaust survivors is gone," Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski told a press conference in Jerusalem. "Israel is the center of the Jewish world," he said. "Therefore, we need a change in the way the Claims Conference functions." Eitan said he had visited Holocaust survivors in Israel and found that they were suffering due, in part, to problems with the way the Claims Conference allocated funds. "Holocaust survivors are at the end of their lives," he said. "In another 15 years only a very few survivors will remain. We should give them the money they deserve now, while they are still alive, and not wait until it is too late." A memorandum demanding that 60 percent of the funds be spent in Israel was signed by Eitan; Bielski; the chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, Noah Flug; the chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev; and the chairman of the Fund for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, Zeev Factor. "In light of the centrality of the State of Israel... 60% of the funds... will be allocated in Israel and the remainder will be distributed in the rest of the countries of the world," it read. They also said that 80% of the funds should be earmarked for aid to needy Holocaust survivors while 20% be used for memorializing the Holocaust, education, research and documentation, as well as strengthening Jewish heritage. The Jewish Agency said in a statement that the "united Israeli front" represented an "unprecedented step" and that the increase to 60% would recognize Israel's "centrality." They say that Israel is currently receiving less, although they would not specify how much. Marilyn Henry, author of Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference, said that there was nothing new in the Israeli demands. "The Claims Conference has traditionally allocated 60% of its discretionary funds to programs for Holocaust survivors and documentation in Israel," Henry said in a telephone interview from New York. "There is nothing new about the 80/20 split between humanitarian aid and education either," she added. "Survivors around the world have great needs, but there are limited amounts of funds, and there is an annual debate about how to divide the funds," she said. "The bigger issue is how Jewish organizations plan to assist survivors once the Claims Conference funds are exhausted." The conference allocates approximately $90 million a year for Holocaust survivors' needs and its total assets are estimated at $1.7 billion. It raises funds from the sale of unclaimed Jewish property in former East Germany. The most valuable of those properties have already been claimed. In a letter to Claims Conference President Israel Singer and Chairman Julius Berman, Eitan wrote, "Israeli representation in the Claims Conference and its various committees should be substantially expanded to reflect the central role of the State of Israel within the Jewish people, and the number of Jews and Holocaust survivors who were absorbed in Israel and live in Israel today," the Jewish Agency said in its statement.