Israeli organization petitions Germany over trial of judge who helped Shoah survivors - World Jewish Congress

Israeli organization petitions Germany over trial of judge who helped Shoah survivors

Israeli organization petitions Germany over trial of judge who helped Shoah survivors


Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, has launched a petition to Germany over the treatment of a German judge who has helped many survivors in Israel.

Colette AvitalWriting to Germany's ambassador to Tel Aviv, Clemens von Goetze, Avital - a retired Israeli diplomat and former member of the Knesset - defended Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse, who has come under increasing scrutiny by his colleagues over his judicial activism in seeking to provide Israeli survivors with pensions. Avital wrote: "We find it unacceptable that a judge who has helped Holocaust survivors should be punished for that."

According to a recent report in 'Yediot Ahronot', von Renesse has been suffering harassment for several years, which is now culminating in a trial due to commence later this week.

At the heart of the controversy is a 2002 German law granting pensions to Jews who worked voluntarily while interned in ghettos. Due to the unexpectedly large number of those who applied, around 70,000, 90 percent of requests were denied on the basis of a lack of documentation. Such documentation would have been nearly impossible to receive in the ghetto, let alone keep throughout the period of the Holocaust.

In an article in 'Haaretz' published in 2013, von Renesse described how he had set up an office in Israel to meet directly with survivors and hear testimony relating to their work status during the war. He criticized the German judiciary for its attitude toward corroborating documentation, stating: “We, as Germans, can’t say to them, ‘It’s your fault you don’t have papers.’ On the contrary. It’s our fault.”

“I was shocked that the judges, my colleagues, didn’t turn to historians and experts, and denied the claims of the survivors based on unscientific sources like Wikipedia,” von Renesse complained.

According to 'Yediot Ahronot', the jduge suffered from an ongoing campaign of harassment, with disciplinary complaints and offices transfers breaking up the flow of his work and his docket of cases being given to another judge.

"I have spoken to Judge von Renesse, all the details are true – he told me that the complaint was filed against him by the other judges who did not like his unconventional way of working,” Avital told the 'Jerusalem Post'.

Last week, she met with von Goetze, handing him the letter which she sent on behalf of 56 Holocaust survivor groups that her center represents, who felt “deeply offended by the news of the trial and who have a profound debt of gratitude to the judge for his invaluable help."

While Avital said she did not want to involve herself in the trial, she felt that given that the issue had previously been solved, "such a trial now will have damaging effects on the image of the Federal Republic of Germany – a country that has done so much toward compensating Holocaust survivors in the past 60 years.

"We find it unacceptable to bring to trial a person who helped Holocaust survivors to achieve their rights," Avital wrote.

Her Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel has now launched a petition to North Rhine Westfalia's Governor Hannelore Kraft, which states: "We feel deeply indebted to him and think that he [Judge von Renesse] should be commended for his actions, not punished."

Link to the petition