This year we mark the 70th anniversary of the Reparations Agreement with West Germany “as compensation for the grave injustice that fell on the State of Israel to resettle a large number of underprivileged Jewish refugees who were uprooted and lost their assets during the Holocaust because of the Nazis’ actions.” As part of the agreement, the Federal Republic of Germany paid Israel three billion West German marks for rehabilitating and recuperating about half a million Holocaust survivors who survived the inferno and arrived in Israel destitute.
Although the Reparations Agreement brought an economic boost to a young and poor country whose citizens lived in austerity and economic uncertainty, in political-social terms it caused a great rift in the state’s history between the agreement’s supporters and opponents, leading to severe internal turmoil whose repercussions are felt to this day, 70 years later.
From a historical perspective, there is no doubt that the Reparations Agreement has been one of the most important economic treaties signed by Israel and its contribution was highly significant to the growth of the newly established state. The agreement was also very important and significant for West Germany and contributed to it greatly, both in political terms with its re-acceptance into the bosom of the Western world and economically because the “authorization” from Israel encouraged other countries to renew trade relations with Germany.
Holocaust survivors pay the price for reparations
Alongside the positive returns from the agreement, I would like to point out the personal toll that the Reparations Agreement still exacts today, in 2023, from Holocaust survivors in Israel and around the world. As of today, the agreement itself entitles only some Holocaust survivors in Israel to monthly allowances, since it encompassed only Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel before October 1953, when the agreement was enacted.
In addition to the Holocaust survivors who received a stipend under the Reparations Agreement with Germany, other Holocaust survivors continued to arrive in Israel over the years, mainly from communist bloc countries and North Africa. In the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the huge wave of immigration to Israel, the state had to contend with tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors who were not entitled to a monthly allowance under the Reparations Agreement simply because they immigrated to Israel after October 1953.
It was only in the 1990s, through the Claims Conference, that Germany began to pay a quarterly stipend to Holocaust survivors in Israel and abroad who had not previously received reparations, provided that they had lived in a ghetto, camp or in hiding and met a relatively low-income threshold. However, the allowance was significantly lower than the monthly stipends received by Holocaust survivors from Israel or Germany and the eligibility conditions did not include most of the Holocaust survivors who immigrated from the former Soviet Union.
THEREFORE, TODAY there are about 50,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel who do not receive a monthly stipend simply because they immigrated to Israel after October 1953.
In recent years, the Israeli government has been making great efforts to expand the rights, improve the Holocaust survivors’ situation and equalize conditions between the various populations of Holocaust survivors: monthly supplementary payments for thousands of Holocaust survivors who receive a quarterly stipend from the Claims Conference; monthly programs and allowances for Holocaust survivors who were in a ghetto, worked in forced labor or even fought against the Nazis. Alongside this, an economic and health support package, mental health treatments and various benefits are provided.
In addition, the State of Israel pays an annual grant of NIS 6,987 and grants an exemption from payment for medications in the healthcare basket to 50,000 Holocaust survivors who are not entitled to a monthly stipend simply because they immigrated to Israel after October 1953, as well as to 50,000 victims of Nazi harassment from Morocco, Algeria and Iraq.
And what did Germany do?
Alongside expanding eligibility for Holocaust survivors from mainly Bulgaria and Romania, it has not expanded the circle of recipients of monthly allowances. The allowance of Holocaust survivors who receive a pension directly from Germany has not been updated for decades and is now lower than that received by Holocaust survivors from Israel. They are not entitled to the same benefits and participation in medical expenses as Holocaust survivors who receive the allowance from Israel.
As the years go by, the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling. In light of their advanced age and the repercussions of the persecution and great suffering they endured during the Holocaust on their health even more than in the past, Holocaust survivors need a therapeutic framework and the many resources that are denied to them.
Holocaust survivors have no time left, so even today, 70 years after the Reparations Agreement was signed, Israel must demand that the German government takes responsibility, correct the injustice and compensate all the survivors who remain, so that they can live their last years in dignity and welfare.
The writer is the CEO of Aviv for Holocaust Survivors, a nonprofit organization that ensures the full realization of Holocaust survivors’ rights, at no charge.