Memo to the Claims Conference: We Holocaust survivors are not dead yet

Germany caused the massive medical and emotional problems survivors are confronting today, and Germany should pay for all of the survivors’ needs.

Holocaust survivors from Pardes Hanna (photo credit: GIL ELIYAHU / JINIPIX)
Holocaust survivors from Pardes Hanna
(photo credit: GIL ELIYAHU / JINIPIX)
Survivors everywhere were appalled to read the Claims Conference’s media blitz last month. It announced, with galling pride, that its blue-chip management consultants are recommending the organization re-invent itself to focus on Holocaust education, and that the programs be payed for by Germany. Maybe this latest egregious breach of decency will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Maybe now, the New York attorney-general, or Congress, will step in and replace the Claims Conference’s board of directors and management.
I am among the fortunate survivors who are able to participate in the advisory committees of the Jewish Family Services and self-help agencies and other similar groups in Israel. It is tragic how we see, every day, the excruciating pain of having to deny poor survivors the financial assistance they need for their medicines, hearing aids, eyeglasses, dental care, dentures, food, housing repairs, rent and utility payments, home care, repairs and other basic needs. There is never enough money available in these funds to address the minimal needs of the survivors among us.
We know so many survivors who have suffered and died in misery, without the care they needed and deserved. And unfortunately, more and more of our beloved survivor brothers and sisters are passing away every day.
For the Claims Conference to be making plans to schnorr money from Germany for Holocaust education in the future, while half of the survivors around the world are suffering in desperation and without hope, proves how out of touch the group’s leaders are with the real lives of Holocaust survivors in need. Their major goal has never changed: accumulating and perpetuating power by doling out money the organization managed to divert from Holocaust victims and their heirs. Will anyone step in and instill some sanity to this situation? One would have thought the organization’s board and management would have learned a lesson when they were publicly humiliated after allowing $57 million to be stolen from under their noses by their own employees.
But instead of taking responsibility, the organization cracked down on the innocent survivors who previously chose not to apply for any pensions or programs by making applications harder to submit, even though the cause of the theft was incompetent Claims Conference management, not overly simple application requirements. Is anyone paying attention to this outrage? I know Greg Schneider personally, and I was very distressed by his outrageous quotes in the recent articles touting the Claims Conference’s plans for the future. He is tragically mistaken when he says the survivors’ agenda is already taken care of, and that ensuring a smooth flow of payments from Germany to survivors, and providing adequate long-term care, are fully accomplished. According to Mr. Schneider, “We did that.”
Really, Greg? Why isn’t anybody doing the math? I had the privilege of testifying in January to the United States Senate Select Committee on Aging on the subject of Holocaust survivors’ needs. We showed that it is harmful for everyone to swoon over Germany’s recent announcement that it would be paying $800 million for home care over the next four years. Because if you divide the annual sum that allows, about $200 million, over the 56,000 survivors worldwide who receive home-care assistance, the average funds per survivor per year is $3,500.
In most cities, that amount will only cover a survivor with average needs (15 hours a week), for 15 weeks a year. What is that survivor supposed to do for the other 37 weeks? And what about desperately infirm survivors in their late 80s and 90s who need 24/7 care? The current 24 hour weekly cap leaves thousands of these very elderly and infirm survivors at serious risk of catastrophic injury. I hear the same concerns from other survivors in the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA , representing the entire United States.
Survivors need – and deserve – more funds to provide for the professionally recommended level of home care and emergency services that will enable them to live their last years in decent health and with dignity. And what about the survivors living in the shadows, who are too ashamed to seek help? They need and deserve assistance as well, but the agencies can’t even do outreach because there will be no funds to help them.
With all of this misery among survivors, the Claims Conference is declaring “mission accomplished?” They want to leverage their previous experience to get more money from Germany for Holocaust education, but not to give survivors what they need for dignity in their lifetimes? For shame.
Fortunately, the Senate Aging Committee and others are taking a close look at the reasons survivors’ needs are going unmet, and we hope they will soon be taking further action to rectify the problem.
Survivors and second- and third-generation leaders have long opposed the current cynical framework pitting the heirs of East German properties against indigent survivors. This shell game, enabled by the silence bought by Claims Conference grants, has allowed the Claims Conference to protect Germany while maintaining monopoly control over Holocaust-related assets and survivors’ welfare.
But the fact is that Germany caused the massive medical and emotional problems survivors are confronting today, and Germany should pay for all of the survivors’ needs, without the bargaining and compromising that has become the Claims Conference’s specialty. Survivors and heirs should have the right to recover their lost assets, including German properties, insurance claims and artworks, and Germany should pay for the needs of indigent survivors.
The elected, grass-roots survivor leadership including the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA and Generations of the Shoah International, and other groups, have been advocating for a comprehensive plan, funded by the German government and other Holocaust profiteers such as Allianz and Generali, and supervised by the respective governments where the survivors live, to provide all survivors with vital services and dignity in their final years.
When we raised this directly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel several years ago, we were rudely rebuffed and told the Claims Conference was in charge, and that Germany wasn’t responsible for all conditions of old age, such as osteoporosis.
We are grateful to Senators Barbara Boxer and Bill Nelson who have written to Chancellor Merkel to renew this request for Germany to take full responsibility for the full range of needs of survivors everywhere.
We hope their status as senior US Senators will get her attention, and that other US elected officials, and Israeli officials as well, will join them.
However, the first step toward achieving the full measure of justice that survivors deserve will be a thorough housecleaning at the Claims Conference, with elected survivors and second-generation leaders, accountable only to the survivor community, in the lead.
The author, of Boynton Beach, Florida, was born in Vari, Czechoslovakia, which became part of Greater Hungary during World War II. He is a survivor of several Nazi concentration and death camps, and serves on the executive committee of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.