Supreme Court closes door on 'Children of Tehran' Holocaust survivors

Despite sympathy, court reverses 2012 decision on future compensation of NIS 50,000 for 219 elderly persons from group.

HENRIETTA SZOLD chats with Tehran Chldren 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
HENRIETTA SZOLD chats with Tehran Chldren 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Reversing a 2012 decision of the Tel Aviv District Court, the Supreme Court on Monday canceled all future Holocaust-related compensation, of NIS 50,000 per person, for 219 elderly persons from the “Children of Tehran” Holocaust survivor group.
However, per a November 2013 consensual agreement by the state, those persons from the group who already started receiving funds do not need to return them.
The name “Children of Tehran” was given to a group of over 1,000 Holocaust survivors making up Jews who left Poland for Russia in 1939, prior to the Nazi invasion, as well as children of those families who were placed in Christian Polish orphanages.
Some of the children eventually journeyed with a Polish-Jewish militia called the “Anders Army” through many locations until they reached Tehran – where they lived for some years, in harsh conditions.
In 1943, when the Jewish Agency learned about the children, most of them were brought to then British Mandate Palestine.
For various reasons, the Children of Tehran as a group were not recognized as Holocaust survivors, for the purposes of receiving special compensation, until 1997.
In 2004, they filed a lawsuit to receive compensation. On August 12, 2012 they received a judgment from the Tel Aviv District Court for each person to receive NIS 50,000, with a harsh rebuke to the state for abandoning them.
The central question of the ruling was whether a 1952 agreement between Israel and Germany created a collective right to compensation for Holocaust survivors living in Israel or an individual right to compensation for each victim.
The Supreme Court, with Justice Elyakim Rubinstein writing the opinion for a panel of justices that also included Edna Arbel and Deputy President Miriam Naor, held that the right was collective and not individual.
Rubinstein said that the purpose of the agreement, however imperfect, was to help build the State of Israel.
Accordingly, he said, that some funds were given to individual Holocaust survivors as a class of persons to help them build lives and through helping them, help the state.
Other funds, Rubinstein noted, were invested in state infrastructure and were not given to individuals at all.
Even an expert who was testifying on behalf of the Children of Tehran admitted that he was not really arguing that the original 1952 agreement obligated paying each individual survivor.
Rather, he was arguing that despite the state’s limitations in the 1950s, when it needed the money for general purposes to survive as a collective, the agreement should be reinterpreted in light of Israel’s current more economically stable position, where the state can afford to compensate each individual.
All three justices expressed intense moral and philosophical sympathy for the survivors, saying that they “should not need to knock on the door of the courts” to obtain the ability to live above poverty, and in dignity.
The justices detailed a history of state lapses in taking care of its graying Holocaust survivor group, emphasizing a 2007 State Comptroller report and other information indicating the state’s apathy toward many survivors’ poverty.
They implied that even if the state had no legal obligation under the 1952 agreement to take care of the Children of Tehran, the state should still find ways to help.