Claims Conference says only four years left for funds, but is seeking more from European countries
with Jewish property.
The organization that has been the primary advocate for Holocaust survivors and funneled $70 billion to them over the past 59 years will largely run out of money in four years — at the same time the need for home care for needy survivors will be at its height — the group disclosed this week.
“We will be finished paying for home care in four years, having spent down all the money we have” in the bank, said Gregory Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
It was the first time the Claims Conference has revealed this timetable.
The only new money the organization anticipates receiving will be from the sale of an estimated 3,000 parcels of property in the former East Germany, and reparations yet to be negotiated or pending with about 25 other European countries.
Schneider said it is not known how much the former East German property is worth, but he said the more valuable property the Claims Conference acquired from the recovery of unclaimed Jewish property in East Germany has already been sold.
Thus, he said, the organization received $150 million two years ago from the sale of East Germany property it held. This year, it received $100 million from sales, “and if we continue with that trend, the amount received will decrease quickly,” Schneider said.
Of the approximately $1 billion in cash it now holds, Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference, wrote in an Op-Ed in this issue of The Jewish Week that all of it will be spent by 2014 (See page 30).
He explained that $211 million is already set aside for the heirs of property in East Germany that was stolen by the Nazis. The Claims Conference acquired the property when it went unclaimed after German reunification in 1990. It then sold it, using the proceeds primarily to benefit needy Holocaust survivors.
Schneider said the $211 million is the amount those heirs are to receive once they provide the necessary documentation to prove ownership.
Another $360 million has been set aside to reimburse organizations for home care, medicine, food and other services and programs they provided to survivors in 2009 and 2010, Schneider said.
At the beginning of 2009, the Claims Conference was providing home care for about 50,000 poor Nazi victims worldwide. That figure jumped to 60,000 this year, a 20 percent increase.
“We expect the figure to continue going up,” Schneider said. “We are projecting a 13 percent increase next year and we predict the number will continue to rise until 2014, after which it will then begin to level off.”
There are an estimated 500,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors worldwide today, and those receiving home care live in Israel, the United States, the former Soviet Union and Eastern and Western Europe. Each has an income of less than $21,000 a year; pensions and social security payments are excluded from that figure.
Dan Mariaschin, a board member of the Claims Conference and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said the “home care and medical needs of survivors will continue into the foreseeable future.”
The remaining $543 million is to be divided equally over the next four years — about $136 million each year — to primarily provide social services for Holocaust survivors, Berman wrote.
“People think we have so much money and that we are hoarding it,” Schneider said. “The problem we are facing is that we are not hoarding money but are running out of money and have a four-year spend-down plan.”
Recognizing that trend, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation announced in July that it was awarding the Claims Conference $10 million over five years for emergency services for impoverished Holocaust survivors living in North America. The money is to be used for medical equipment, medications, dental care, transportation, food and short-term home care for Holocaust survivors.
“The amount of new money coming in is decreasing, and so we are asking the German government to increase the amount they give survivors, because they can’t be left without home care, food and medicine,” Schneider said.
As a result, Germany this year allocated another $77 million — almost double the previous year — to supplement home care costs for survivors, and Schneider said the number of survivors needing home care is expected to increase next year.
“We are telling the Germans that we are running out of money and want to shift to them the responsibility of providing home care,” he said.
Negotiations with Germany to increase supplemental home care money are already under way, Schneider noted. Asked how much the Claims Conference is requesting, he replied that his organization is not concentrating on the amount of money but rather on the “level of home care that should be provided.”
Regarding other European countries that have yet to compensate Jewish families for the property stolen from them by the Nazis and never returned after the war, Schneider said active discussions are under way with Hungary.
“A negotiating team is in place and with the understanding that the talks will take a long time, Hungary last year provided a $21 million advance against an ultimate settlement on heirless property,” Schneider said.
The money is being provided over five years, $4.2 million each year. Hungary stipulated that the money be used for emergency cash assistance exclusively for former Hungarian citizens. This year, 6,000 people received the money.
Austria imposed a similar restriction on the $2.5 million it has distributed worldwide.
Germany has put no such restriction on the money it pays to survivors, and Schneider said it is hoped that in the future such restrictions are removed because “of the pressing needs of all survivors.”
Mariaschin said the Claims Conference “won’t rest until we have reached a settlement” with all countries and there is a pool of money to help survivors.
Among other nations the Claims Conference is looking to negotiate with are Poland — regarding compensation for private Jewish property — and Lithuania, for communal Jewish property.
“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” Schneider said. “There are court cases pending in the international court regarding Poland, but success will only come through direct negotiations with the Polish government. The U.S. government is working with us on that” and in efforts to recover money from all European nations.
He noted that draft legislation has been proposed in the Lithuanian parliament regarding compensation, but that there are “still lots of problems with it.”
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