Panel: Should Holocaust funds only go to survivors?

Some members of committee are in favor of introducing a five-year moratorium on education spending in order to aid aging survivors.

Holocaust survivors 311 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Holocaust survivors 311
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Should Holocaust restitution money be used exclusively to help elderly survivors, the youngest of whom are in their late 70s and 80s, or should some of it go toward remembering the dead?
On Thursday the Allocations Policy Review Committee, an ad-hoc group of officials from various Jewish organizations aimed at representing a cross section of the Jewish world, will gather for a special meeting in Jerusalem, where the issue – which has generated heated debate– will be discussed.
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“People feel the prerogative should go to the survivors, there’s no doubt about that,” explained Gregory Schneider, the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, better known as the Claims Conference. “But the question is whether some of the money should be allocated to remember those who did not survive.”
The committee will meet for the second time and is expected to submit its findings to the Claims Conference – the body tasked with representing Jewish victims of the Nazis in talks over compensation with Germany – in July.
Last year the Claims Conference allocated 18 out of its 284 million dollar annual budget toward Holocaust educational programs at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Museum, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum and others. In addition, the Claims Conference said roughly eight or nine million went to building infrastructure for survivors in Israel and the rest was spent on homecare and other services.
While some argue that such allocations are appropriate and proportionate, others believe the frail health of the victims of Nazi persecution requires the entirety of Holocaust funds be devoted to helping them in their old age.
Some members of the Allocations Policy Review Committee, who spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity, are in favor of introducing a five-year moratorium on education spending.
“There are old survivors who are in desperate need of help right now and haven’t got many years to live,” the member of the board said. “Until they pass away, we should be giving all our money to them.”
Asked his opinion on the proposal of a five-year suspension of education spending, Schneider said it wasn’t feasible.
“If one were to say we don’t want to spend money on education, let’s not confuse it with the idea of a moratorium, because four or five years from now the money will be spent and there will be none left,” he said.
“As one very eloquent person said, ‘Don’t ask me to choose between my mother and my daughter.’ There’s no question that the greatest money should go to the survivors, but the question is whether it’s exclusive, and some believe a small percentage should go to remembering those who didn’t survive,” he said.
Another bone of contention has been the eight to nine million dollar figure that the Claims Conference gives each year to projects like the construction of hospital wards in Israel.
“On the one hand people say the government needs to provide that to survivors,” Schneider said. “The argument in favor is that this is done with the government at its request.
If you look at data of beds-perperson, there’s a shocking shortage in Israel. We only contribute towards certain wards where there are elderly people, like geriatric wards, not maternity wards. Then we take a survey of the number of people who are survivors, and our funding is in relation to that number. We don’t contribute anything to maintenance. If we say we’re not giving anything, then it’s the survivor that suffers.”
Isi Leibler, a vocal critic of the Claims Conference, who also writes a column for this newspaper, said he believed the sums allocated by the organization for education and infrastructure were inaccurate, and that in any case such spending was inappropriate.
“The ten percent figure on education spending is a misleading statistic because there are other groups not identified as education,” he said. “On top, the overwhelming issue is the projects of infrastructure not directly given to survivors.”
Leibler added that he was not against allocating money toward educational purposes, but that he believed survivors’ needs should take precedence over Holocaust remembrance in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Germany announced on Tuesday that it it will increase funds for Holocaust survivors in 2012 by 15%. While it is uncertain how or whether the announcement will influence the debate at Thursday’s meeting, Schneider said on Monday that the vehemence with which the issue of Holocaust education spending was debated last year abated after Berlin pledged to increase funding of welfare services for Holocaust survivors.
“Traditionally, the debate is cooling off a little bit because over the 18 months there’s been an infusion of money for welfare,” he said. “The debate is sensible and appropriate. It’s a debate over whether you think the money for the dead should be used to remember them.”