One survivor's battle with bureaucracy

Zvi Unger says he's waited two years for his Holocaust restitution to be transferred from Claims Conference to a gov't agency.

Holocaust survivor Zvi Unger 370 (photo credit: YouTube, Yad Vashem)
Holocaust survivor Zvi Unger 370
(photo credit: YouTube, Yad Vashem)
Four years ago, Zvi Unger lit a torch at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem, but the honor bestowed upon him then has not elevated him above having to occasionally battle bureaucratic red tape.
Two years ago, Unger requested his restitution stipend to be transferred from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry because he was told he would receive more benefits. But his application is still being held up.
“I sent a letter in April 2010,” he said over the phone from Malkiya, a kibbutz on the border with Lebanon which he helped found. “I kept sending letters – and have all the receipts and dates written down – but despite receiving a call or two asking more information my request still has not been approved.”
Unger is the sole survivor of a family of 11. When he arrived at Auschwitz in 1943, at age 14, he told Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor, that he was 18 and was thus spared being sent to the gas chambers. He was liberated by the Americans in Buchenwald in 1945 together with author Elie Wiesel and former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau after surviving a death march from Auschwitz.
Earlier this year, the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority asked Unger to provide a letter from an attorney confirming his transfer request.
Unger said he returned the letter four months ago but had not heard from the the authority since.
A Finance Ministry representative said on Wednesday that Unger should expect a response to his application shortly.
“Only on February 26 [2012] did the authority receive the needed material to determine his request’s eligibility,” the Finance Ministry representative said. “Once it is determined whether Mr. Unger is eligible to receive a stipend from the authority the transfer will be carried out. A decision is due in the next few days.”
Unger vehemently rejected the Treasury’s claims, saying he had sent all the documents asked of him over the past two years promptly. In any case, he said, the Treasury’s reply that his application will be processed soon was of little comfort after having to wait two years since it started.
“I don’t need the money, I’m financially sound,” he said. “I worry about other Holocaust survivors who do.
What matters here is that requests are handled efficiently and survivors are treated with respect.”