An agreement has been reached between Germany and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany on liberalizing the criteria for pensions for Shoah survivors. The deal will pave the way for an estimated US$ 650 million in additional compensation for survivors over the coming years. “It’s not about money, it's about Germany's acknowledgment of these people's suffering," said Greg Schneider, Claims Conference executive vice president, adding: "They are finally getting recognition of the horrors they endured as children.” Of the new beneficiaries, around 5,000 live in the United States.
However, part of the agreement does not immediately cover survivors who were young Jewish children born in 1938 or later. "We will continue to press for greater liberalizations to ensure that no Holocaust survivor is deprived of the recognition that each deserves," Stuart Eizenstat, special negotiator for the conference, said in a statement. "That's why we continue to negotiate," said Greg Schneider.
Germany will now pay reparation pensions to a total of 66,000 people who survived Nazi death camps and Jewish ghettos or had to hide or live under false identity.
Under the new rules, which go into effect on 1 January 2012, any Jew who spent at least 12 months in a ghetto, in hiding or living under a false identity, is eligible for a monthly pension of € 300 (US$ 400) a month. For countries in the former Soviet bloc, that amount is € 260 (US$ 250). Until now, the minimum time requirement for living under such duress was 18 months. According to the Claims Conference, 109,000 survivors have benefitted since 1995 from pension payments it negotiated with the German government.
Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference, which provides services and reparations to victims of the Holocaust around the world, said in a statement that conference officials "have long emphasised to the German government that they cannot quantify the suffering of a Holocaust survivor who lived in the hell of a ghetto."
The Germans established more than 1,000 ghettos for Jews while the Hitler regime in Berlin deliberated the ‘Final Solution’, a plan to murder all European Jews. Some ghettos existed for only a few days, others for months or years, before residents were either shot in mass graves or deported to death camps. More than 400,000 lived in the Warsaw Ghetto in occupied Poland, and hundreds of thousands of others were squeezed into similar enclaves in Eastern European cities like Vilnius, Lodz, Minsk and Odessa - starved and often battling deadly illnesses while forced to work.
Germany also has agreed to offer pensions to those who are 75 or older and spent three months in ghettos like the one operated in Budapest from November 1944 to January 1945. That provision is expected to affect about 4,500 survivors next year and 3,500 more once they turn 75.
The Claims Conference, which was set up in 1951 on the initiative of then-World Jewish Congress President Nahum Goldmann, meets regularly with German officials to negotiate changes to pension and compensation programs so that additional Holocaust victims may receive payments. Negotiations focus on expanding the criteria for compensation programs, so that the experiences of more Holocaust victims are recognized, and on increasing payment amounts.
The Claims Conference said it would continue to press other issues of concern in future negotiations with the German government.
For more information visit the website of the Claims Conference.