Claims Conference negotiations
Claims Conference negotiationsMarco Limberg

Today, Julius Berman, President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) announced that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust era “death trains,” pogrom and subsequent open ghettos in Iasi, Romania, will be eligible to receive compensation pensions.

Since 1952, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) has represented world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah.

The announcement follows the organization’s early July negotiations with the German government. The Claims Conference negotiating delegation continuously fights on behalf of Holocaust survivors by working with the German government to expand the eligibility criteria for compensation. Claims Conference Special Negotiator, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, said “The horrors inflicted on the Jews of Iasi have finally been recognized more than 70 years later. These survivors endured unimaginable suffering. For those who are still with us, we have obtained a small measure of justice, even after all this time.”

Approximately 15,000 Jews were murdered between the Iasi pogrom and “death trains.” Some Jews who survived the massacre of the pogrom were forced onto train cars where they were left for days while the train traveled at an incredulously slow pace between towns, killing most of the occupants through suffocation, dehydration and madness. Those Jews left behind in Iasi were forced to live in a designated section of the town set up as an open ghetto, under curfew, in constant fear of deportation to labor camps, enduring regular beatings and cruelty by both German and Romanian soldiers.

The Claims Conference has negotiated for an increase for their provision of home care and other services across the Claims Conference programs around the world. In part, these additional funds will be used to provide pensions to Iasi survivors who do not currently receive a pension.

Iasi survivor Frances Flescher said, “Jews from Romania, we went through hell, and they didn’t recognize it. We were persecuted and wore yellow stars and the hunger that we went through and everything. I don’t know every place, but I know in Iasi what we went through.”

More than the additional financial support, Flescher was concerned that she and those who survived from her town will now receive the long overdue recognition of their suffering. During the negotiations in Berlin, the German government also agreed to the following changes in Claims Conference compensation programs:

The 2018 in-home services budget will increase from the previously agreed upon amount of €350 million ($399 million), bringing the total budget to €405 million globally ($462 million). While survivor needs continue to increase, the Claims Conference is dedicated to meeting those needs. This funding is allocated to social welfare agencies around the globe that are Claims Conference grantees. Distribution will vary depending on individual agency needs. The Claims Conference is proud to work with our partner agencies globally.

Reduction of time living in hiding or under false identity was decreased from six months to four months to be eligible for a Claims Conference pension. This change will recognize the suffering of approximately 1,000 survivors who lived in hiding or under false identity for four to six months. “It is impossible to quantify the suffering of a survivor who lived in terror of being caught or revealed as a Jew, which would have been an instant death sentence. Those survivors who lived under these conditions for even a few months deserve the acknowledgement that these payments provide,” said Greg Schneider, Claims Conference Executive Vice President. Eligibility for the Hardship Fund will now be open to those who previously received a one-time payment that is less than the amount paid today. The amount of the previous payment will be deducted from the Hardship Fund amount of €2,556. An estimated 5,000 survivors will benefit from this liberalization.”

Although no amount of money can ever compensate for the indescribable suffering and losses of Holocaust survivors, these elderly heroes deserve the recognition that these increased payments will provide,” said Claims Conference President Julius Berman.

The Claims Conference has allocated from all sources a total of $392 million to more than 300 organizations in 2017. These funds will support Holocaust survivors in 45 countries with home care, food programs, medical care, dental work, emergency cash assistance and transportation. The needs of Holocaust survivors are different now than they were immediately following the war, and more important than ever. As survivors age, Claims Conference support is critical to ensuring survivors are able to live out their final years in dignity and comfort.

The Claims Conference negotiations delegation is comprised of Special Negotiator, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat; Roman Kent, Co-Chair; Holocaust survivor leaders Colette Avital, Ben Helfgott and Marian Turski; as well as Reuven Merhav, Rabbi Andrew Baker; and Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider.