Berman, Schneider ‘unanimously’ reelected to head Claims Conference

National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors decries decision.

Berman Julius 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Berman Julius 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The embattled leaders of the Claims Conference, buffeted by charges of mismanagement and facing calls for resignations in the Jewish media, were reelected on Wednesday.
Chairman Julius Berman and executive vice president Greg Schneider were able to claim unanimous support from the organization’s board of directors because there were no separate elections for individual officers of the conference, board member Stephan Kramer said, explaining that board members were only permitted a binary choice of approving a long list of candidates or dismissing them all.
“The Claims Conference only allowed a yes or no vote on the entire slate, including a long list of vice presidents rather than separate votes – and did not allow abstentions,” Kramer told The Jerusalem Post via email following the meeting in New York on Wednesday.
“Accordingly,” he continued, “some organizations simply did not vote. I think that procedure speaks for itself.”
While Kramer declined to specify which organizations did not vote, there are several bodies represented on the board that have been critical of Berman and Schneider.
Among them are the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Agency and Kramer’s own Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Kramer and at least one of two delegates from the Board of Deputies of British Jews have previously expressed their support for calls by WJC and Jewish Agency officials for an independent, external probe of the Claims Conference.
The controversy surrounding the organization centers around a 2001 tip-off letter regarding several cases of potentially fraudulent restitution claims that were approved in violation of conference guidelines. In 2009, it was discovered that the fraud had continued for nearly two decades and cost the Holocaust restitution body $57 million in fraudulent claims.
The letter sent to the conference resulted in two internal probes – one conducted by Berman, then a board member and pro bono counsel – that failed to uncover the embezzlement.
According to an internal report by the organization’s ombudsman, Shmuel Hollander, that was leaked to the Post on Monday, “management failings” were key in creating the atmosphere in which the embezzlement took place.
In a blistering critique of the corporate culture of the Claims Conference, Hollander asserted that “the absence of professional control systems... constituted a key factor in enabling, and certainly in facilitating, the fraud.”
“Our board spoke loudly, clearly and unanimously,” Schneider told the Post in an email on Thursday. “It was inspiring to see unanimous agreement that all extraneous issues, from personalities to internal Jewish politics – be put aside so that the Claims Conference can continue in successfully proving for Holocaust survivors.”
“No doubt, the fraud was an awful period but having worked closely with the FBI to bring the matter from investigation through convictions, and having gone through processes, with many experts and consultants, of reviewing possible weaknesses and remedying them, we have an obligation to get on with our sacred duty,” he said.
Schneider referred to the board’s decision to establish a special planning commission composed of Claims Conference directors, Holocaust survivors and “qualified” outsiders tasked with promulgating “recommendations for the promotion of appropriate Shoah research, education and remembrance even subsequent to the demise of the living survivors.”
The commission will conduct a “review of the administration, management and governance structure of the Claims Conference including its bylaws, and a review of the implementation of the Deloitte report and consideration of the Accenture report,” according to the board’s resolution.
The report by auditing firm Deloitte, conducted on the behest of the German government following the revelation of the fraud, has not as of yet been revealed to the board.
The recommendations of the report are “being implemented in consultation with the German Ministry of Finance,” according to a Claims Conference spokeswoman.
The spokeswoman said that the organization had already “begun an extensive process of institutional change” several years ago. Among the changes was the introduction of “secondary review of claim processing.”
Conference employees overseeing restitution applications will obtain “original documentation to verify claims directly from archives rather than from claimants.”
Leo Rechter, the president of the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, expressed great dismay over the decisions of the board.
In an email sent to the Post through his lawyer, Rechter called the fraud “a symptom of a larger institutional system which favored the Claims Conference hierarchy at survivors’ expense.”
“The board members continue to turn a blind eye to the impact of their actions on the living survivors among us,” he continued. “Maybe now, the New York attorney-general, who has been aware of the Claims Conference’s disastrous policies and practices for many years, will step in and take control of this shameful enterprise.
Or, perhaps the US Congress or the Israeli Knesset will take appropriate action.”