Multi-billion-dollar lawsuits against Russia, Hungary and Germany were filed in Manhattan Federal Court Wednesday seeking compensation or the return of artwork looted by the Nazis and kept by those countries.
Joram Deutsch, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said the artwork has been “documented as being stolen from Holocaust victims” and that the three countries have “taken the position that they can retain the paintings or delay their return, regardless of their origin.”
The federal judge overseeing the allocation of the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement is considering increasing the amount of money being awarded to the heirs of Swiss bank depositors, angering those who would like the extra money used to benefit needy survivors.
Prompting the reassessment is the fact that about half of the $800 million the court set aside to pay the claims of Swiss bank account holders has yet to be distributed. The Holocaust-era money deposited in those accounts either was never claimed or the banks refused to release it after the war.
The Anti-Defamation League is set to honor Burt Neuborne, the NYU law professor who took the lead in fighting for Holocaust survivors in their efforts to recover their Holocaust-era deposits from Swiss Banks and restitution from German companies, at its dinner next week.
But some survivors believe he doesn't deserve the honor.
"It's a shonda [scandal] for the Jewish people," said David Mermelstein, former president of the Coalition of Holocaust Survivors of Florida. "He betrayed us."
Dr. Kasriel Eilender of Manhattan was too busy with his medical practice after the war to even consider writing a memoir about his survival in four Nazi concentration camps.
But in 2003 — 16 years after he retired — Eilender, now 85, recalled those experiences in 76 typed pages.
“I didn’t have the money to publish it [myself], so I made 150 copies and gave them to friends and colleagues and one to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” he said.
A proposed settlement of Holocaust-era claims against the giant Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali has resulted in the payment of more than $25 million and the reopening of the claims process until next March 31, according to Robert Swift, an attorney who handled the settlement.
But an economist who served as a consultant to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Sidney Zabludoff, criticized the settlement for "adding nothing and making the claimants' plight more difficult."
In what they acknowledge is their "last chance" to benefit from the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement with Holocaust survivors, groups of American survivors asked the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to consider hearing their appeal of the way in which a Brooklyn federal judge has ordered the money allocated.
After repeated requests from survivor organizations and the media, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany has decided to publish a list of unclaimed Jewish properties it obtained from the former East Germany and later sold. The organization said it would also publish the amount of money received from each of these sales, which began in 1993.
Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said it was decided to publish the list to put to rest persistent claims that the Claims Conference had amassed billions of dollars from the sales.
In the eyes of Leo Rechter, president of a local survivors group, the lawyer appointed by the court to represent needy survivors in the distribution of the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement was really the judge's lawyer, not theirs.
Rechter, of Hillcrest, Queens, said attorney Burt Neuborne fought the American survivors "every step of the way" as they sought a larger share of the settlement money. And he contends that Neuborne consistently maintained he was working without a fee.
When the latest round of talks were held in Jerusalem this week to resolve Nazi-era insurance claims, a prominent New York Jewish leader was seated at the table. But he was not sitting with the victims.
"I came into this to try to come up with some basis to move the settlement process forward," explained Kenneth Bialkin, who earlier this year became lead counsel in the talks for Italy's largest insurer, Assicurazioni Generali.
At least 17 German banks and industrial firms have agreed to contribute to a fund from which payments will be made to an estimated 100,000 Jews who served as slave laborers during the Holocaust, the German government announced this week. Needy survivors may also be entitled to payments from the fund.
The government hopes the fund will begin making payments to survivors by Sept. 1, the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II, according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.