Claims Conference: Reporting to the community

Our focus will remain on our task: obtaining a small measure of justice for the victims of history’s greatest crime.

Auschwitz 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Auschwitz 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, from its inception in 1951, was created as an institution representing world Jewry. To this end, major Jewish organizations from across the world were invited at the time to participate and make the decisions necessary to secure a small measure of justice for those Jews who suffered under Nazi persecution, and heirs of victims.
For 60 years, one of our greatest strengths has been our diversity, uniting Jews from various countries and denominations, and bringing together survivors with other Jews, in pursuit of common goals.
For decades, the Claims Conference was heavily focused on those goals and achieving the best possible results for each and every survivor.
However, with our focus on achievement, rather than recognition, we have allowed a narrative about the Claims Conference and survivor needs to be hijacked by persistent critics who make inaccurate and unfounded assertions against the Claims Conference.
To address these accusations, we have increased our visibility and highlighted our transparency. In communicating with the public, we have posted all there is to know about the Claims Conference on our four-language website, including an annual audit by KPMG, details of all allocations and financial reports. In addition, at the recent Claims Conference Board of Directors meeting, it was agreed that a completely independent ombudsman would be appointed.
However, this is not enough for some, and undignified attacks need to be answered. The Claims Conference will not attempt to rebut every scurrilous assertion, but we can and will demonstrate how, while our challenges are many, our achievements on behalf of Holocaust survivors are significant, ongoing and will not be derailed by hearsay and conjecture.
While the recent fraud was a sophisticated criminal act perpetrated against the Claims Conference, not one survivor suffered as a result. We continue to disburse payments to Holocaust victims while still negotiating to include more survivors in compensation programs. Recent negotiations with the German government have resulted in unprecedented funding for survivor home care through 2014, totaling approximately $700 million over the next four years.
Of the above-mentioned amount, the Claims Conference allocated $270m. for 2011 alone, an increase of $100m. from just two years ago. The dramatic increase in survivor care funds obtained by the Claims Conference was one of the issues discussed at the organization’s recent annual meeting of its Board of Directors.
At these annual meetings, board members representing Jewish organizations from around the world come together to grapple with the complex and still-pressing matters related to Holocaust compensation and survivor care.
The increase in Claims Conference allocations to agencies around the world will provide Holocaust victims with home care and vital help with basic activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and bathing, as well as other services that greatly ease the lives of elderly Holocaust victims and enable them to continue living in their own homes.
At this year’s annual meeting, the Claims Conference also announced a new compensation program for Holocaust victims in certain Eastern European countries, who have never before received any payment as recognition of their persecution. These one-time payments to 7,000 victims will total around $20m.
In addition, our board also approved a number of recommendations of the Special Committee for Allocations Policy Review (APRC), including striving to provide at least 25 hours or more per week of home care assistance to all needy survivors with the greatest level of disability worldwide and maintaining the current funding level of $18m. per year for Holocaust education, documentation and research.
Due to the greatly increased funds for social welfare services, these grants now represent 6 percent of total Claims Conference allocations. The primary focus in this area should be education, including teacher training, personal presentation of survivor testimonies, museums, and specialized educational visits for students to Holocaust-related sites.
The ongoing debate over Claims Conference allocations for education and documentation is important.
Our board includes both those who would like to see greater and smaller allocations for these programs, with Holocaust survivors also voicing a range of opinions.
This legitimate debate has been raging for many years and should continue. The very nature of the Claims Conference’s work produces highly charged emotions. In this case, the board has resolved that using the assets of those who perished to preserve their memory is important, but overall, 94% of all allocations should be for welfare services for survivors.
A couple of years ago it became fashionable to criticize the Claims Conference, with many of the most vocal critics knowing little or nothing about our work. However many of these former critics have investigated the issues and now understand that the Claims Conference has worked assiduously for survivors’ rights and welfare and attained significant results through decades of negotiations.
The handful of perennial critics has willfully ignored both the results we have attained and the voluminous information on our website about Claims Conference activities.
But our real audience knows the results of our work: The nearly 70,000 needy and disabled survivors who receive home care; the tens of thousands of survivors who are receiving new or increased compensation payments; and the thousands of heirs who have recovered family assets.
This work attests to the organization’s effectiveness and importance.
All together in 2010, the organization distributed $675m. to benefit Holocaust victims and heirs.
Our focus will remain on our task as we have done during our 60-year history, obtaining a small measure of justice for the victims of history’s greatest crime.
The writer is chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany