Our final push for justice

It's painful to imagine that any elderly Jew is forced to decide between food, heat or medicine. That a Holocaust survivor faces such decisions is totally unacceptable.

one holocaust survivor 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
one holocaust survivor 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
When asked, the great scholar Hillel summed up the entire Torah on one foot: "V'ahavta Lere'echa Kamocha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself," adding that the rest is commentary. In assuming the professional leadership of the Claims Conference, I suggest this modern day adaptation: Every Holocaust victim deserves to live her or his remaining years in dignity, and the rest is commentary. Currently we are faced with the intolerable situation of 26,000 Holocaust victims worldwide eating their meals in soup kitchens every day. It is painful that 64 years after the Second World War, after the liberation, the heroes of the Jewish people - so many of them - who were in camps, ghettoes, hiding, false identity, partisans, and Jews who fled from Nazi terror, are so impoverished that they can't afford to buy their own food or, if they do, it is instead of medicine or rent. It is painful to imagine that any 75 or 80 year old Jew, in the year 2009, is forced to decide between food, heat or medicine. That a 75 or 80 year old Holocaust victim faces such decisions is totally unacceptable. However in the world we live today these are choices that are made daily in Buenos Aires, B'nai Barak, Brooklyn and Belarus. But no matter where, hunger is hunger. It is incumbent upon us to see that this situation ends as speedily as possible. To meet this challenge, the Claims Conference must resolve open issues of the German Government's obligation to Nazi victims. Thus, we have been urgently negotiating for funding to meet the social needs of aging Holocaust victims. Particularly providing necessary funds for homecare so that survivors may remain in their own homes is a matter of utmost importance to many. Although the Claims Conference, over the decades, has obtained pensions for most survivors of camps, ghettos and forced labor, there are still 8,000 who still do not receive any pension. Because of German eligibility criteria, there are camp survivors who are not entitled to the monthly payments that are made by the Claims Conference to others who may have been right alongside them during the Shoah. This must change. There are nearly 100,000 Nazi victims in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who are ineligible for payment from the Claims Conference "Hardship Fund" because they did not leave their home countries. More than 330,000 such victims who emigrated to Israel and other Western countries have received this payment. It is not right that two Jews who together fled the Einzatsgruppen should now be treated differently based on where they live today. This must change. Social welfare needs are urgent and increasing. Holocaust victims are more likely to suffer certain illnesses and conditions than their elderly counterparts; due largely to the deprivations and persecution of their youth, yet in many cases cannot receive the care they need due to financial constraints. Beyond the $170 million allocated by the Claims Conference in 2009 for food, homecare, medicine, and other vital services, there are still Nazi victims who are hungry, cold, untreated, and alone. This also must change. The Claims Conference has achieved much in its first 58 years, far beyond what its founders envisaged in 1951. But now, as we approach the final chapter, our actions in the next few critical years will determine how the story ends. We know that funding from Claims Conference recovery of property in the former East Germany, the major source of funding for social services, will deplete many years before significant Nazi victim needs abate. A detailed analysis of needs, a projection of those needs in the years to come and the resources available to us to meet those needs clearly indicates that additional sources of funding must be identified and secured. In partnership with the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), we must continue working to attain full restitution for Jewish assets stolen during the Holocaust, especially in Eastern Europe. Survivors, heirs and the Jewish people have the right to receive what was unjustly taken from them. Restitution of assets is the final chapter of the legacy of the Holocaust, and one that we cannot allow to remain unfinished. The Claims Conference is a consequence of the Shoah, deriving its meaning from honoring those who were murdered and finding some measure of comfort for those who survived. The Claims Conference is of survivors, and for survivors. It is our job to send the message that the Claims Conference is home to all survivors. Though all of these challenges are great, so are our strengths. The Claims Conference is an international coalition, bound by common purpose, driven by irresistible moral imperative and unified in a determination to succeed, with a resolute understanding of what is at stake. Ultimately, there can be no true amends made to Holocaust victims and nothing the Claims Conference achieves can truly be called justice. Nevertheless, we must strive to ensure that every Holocaust victim lives their remaining years in dignity, and the rest is indeed commentary. The writer is the new Executive Vice President of the Conference on Jewish Material Clams Against Germany (Claims Conference).