Negotiators from the Claims Conference (L) met with German government |
officials in New York in July to discuss compensation to alleged Jewish Holocaust survivors
currently living in the former Soviet Union.
After the conclusion of World War II did the Germans pay reparations of some sort to the Jews?
A lot of people would probably assume that, yes, some sort of redress did occur, but that whatever it was, most likely was paid out in one, two, three, or perhaps four lump sum payments, and that the matter was over, settled, and done with, oh, say maybe five years after the war, or ten at most. Few people—or at any rate few who aren’t Jewish, or who don’t make a regular habit of reading the Jewish press—would guess that today, fully 67 years after the war, Germany continues to pay reparations to Jews, or that the benefits doled out keep going up every year, rather than down. But this is indeed the case.
In July of 2012 observances were held marking the 60th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement. The event took place in Washington D.C., with ceremonies held at the Israeli Embassy, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Hart Senate Office Building. So what, you may ask, is the Luxembourg Agreement?
Forcing the Germans to Pay Up
Formally known as the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany, Luxembourg is an agreement signed on September 10, 1952 following lengthy negotiations between an ad hoc committee of Jews representing various Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress; officials from the new state of Israel; and representatives of the West German government, including the country’s then-chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The upshot of the accord was that West Germany was to make restitution, partly in the form of large payments to Israel, on behalf of Jews who had suffered during the Nazi era. The agreement is discussed at some length in an article by Mark Weber, who tells us the West Germans basically had little choice in the matter, and who also supplies us with a rather illuminating quote from Adenauer’s memoirs:
It was clear to me that, if the negotiations with the Jews failed, the negotiations at the London Debt Conference [which were going on at the same time] would also run aground, because Jewish banking circles would exert an influence upon the course of the London Debt Conference which should not be under-estimated. On the other hand it was self-evident that a failure of the London Debt Conference would bring about a failure of the negotiations with the Jews. If the German economy was to achieve a good credit standing and become strong again, the London Conference would have to be ended successfully. Only then would our economy develop in a way that would make the payments to Israel and the Jewish organizations possible. See 5.
More on the London Debt Conference can be found in a summary here, but basically it was an agreement on how German debts, mainly from the period between the two world wars, would be settled with a number of creditor nations, including the US, Britain, and France. Weber goes on to relate (emphases added):
Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Claims Conference, warned of a worldwide campaign against Germany if the Bonn officials did not meet the Zionist demands: "The non-violent reaction of the whole world, supported by wide circles of non-Jews, who have deep sympathy with the martyrdom of the Jewish people during the Nazi period, would be irresistible and completely justified." See 6. The London Jewish Observer was more blunt: "The whole material weight of world Jewry will be mobilized for an economic war against Germany, if Bonn's offer of reparations remains unsatisfactory." See 7.
The claims process works like this: the money is handed over by Germany to the CC, which in turn will allocate it into different funds that it oversees, with each fund earmarked for a specific purpose. There is, for instance, an Article 2 Fund, which provides lifetime pensions for anyone held in a concentration camp, ghetto, or who worked on a forced labor battalion. Also eligible for an Article 2 pension would be those who were only “forced to go into hiding,” as Wikipedia puts it. And then we have a Hardship Fund, which provides one-time payments for those Jews who emigrated to the West from Soviet-bloc countries, and a Holocaust Victims Compensation Fund, providing one-time payments to emigrants from the former Soviet Union itself. The compensation amounts have increased over the years. Currently the Article 2 pensions are set at 300 euros a month, while payments from the Hardship Fund are 2,556 euros each, and the Holocaust Victims Compensation Fund 1,900 euros each.
In addition there is also a Central and Eastern European Fund, which, like Article 2, allocates monthly pensions, only these specifically are provided for Jewish survivors who, rather than emigrating to the West, remained in Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union. These pensions are currently set at 260 euros per month, however, as of Jan. 1, 2013, they will increase to 300 euros a month, making them equal to the Article 2 pensions.
Different funds have different eligibility requirements. For instance, a person may qualify for the Hardship Fund if he/she underwent i) deprivation of liberty; ii) flight from the Nazi regime; iii) “restriction of liberty” as defined under BEG, a German restitution law passed in the 1950s; iv) restriction of movement such as having to observe a curfew, as well as compulsory registration with limitation of residence, or wearing the star of David; or if they v) resided in Leningrad at some time between September 1941 and January 1944, or fled from there during the same period. According to the Claims Conference website, the CC has approved 355,146 claimants and paid out $971 million under the Hardship Fund. Figures are also available for certain of the other funds: under the Article 2 fund, for instance, 85,608 applicants have been approved with a total payout of $3.3 billion; and for the Central and Eastern European Fund—24,307 applicants and $479 million . No figures seem to be available for the Holocaust Victim Compensation Fund, or for a new fund, known as the Orphans Fund, set up as of January 1 this year, The latter offers a one-time payment of 1,900 euros to those born 1928 or later who “were orphaned due to Nazi persecution” with both parents having been killed.
As mentioned above, the Israeli government has also been a recipient of huge piles of money (and goods) at the expense of German taxpayers (in fact, between largess from the taxpayers of Germany, as well as those in the U.S., the Zionist state is doing rather superbly for itself), and here again Weber provides some quotes that are quite instructive. One of these is from Goldman’s autobiography:
What the Luxembourg Agreement meant to Israel is for the historians of the young state to determine. That the goods Israel received from Germany were a decisive economic factor in its development is beyond doubt. I do not know what economic dangers might have threatened Israel at critical moments if it had not been for German supplies. Railways and telephones, dock installations and irrigation plants, whole areas of industry and agriculture, would not be where they are today without the reparations from Germany. And hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims of Nazism have received considerable sums under the law of restitution. See 11.
Without the German reparations, the State of Israel would not have the half of its present infrastructure: every train in Israel is German, the ships are German, as well as the electricity, a large part of the industry ... without mentioning the individual pensions paid to the survivors ... In certain years, the amount of money received by Israel from Germany exceeds the total amount of money collected from international Jewry-two or three times as much. See 12.
The ships laden with German capital goods began to call at Haifa regularly and unfailingly, becoming an important -- ultimately a decisive -- factor in the building up of the country. Today  the Israeli fleet is almost entirely "made in Germany," as are its modern railway equipment, the big steel foundry near Acre, and many other enterprises. During the 50's and early 60's about one-third of investment goods imported into Israel came from Germany ... In addition to all this, many individual Israelis received restitution privately. See 13.
It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of the program: the five power plants built and installed by West Germany between 1953 and 1956 quadrupled Israel's electric-power-generating capacity. West Germans laid 280 kilometers of giant pipelines (2.25 and 2.5 meters in diameter) for the irrigation of the Negev (which certainly helped to "make the desert bloom"). The Zionist state acquired 65 German- built ships, including four passenger vessels. See 14.
Massive Fraud and Exorbitant Salaries
Over the years the CC has been touched by controversies and scandals, but perhaps nothing like what erupted in late 2009, when it was discovered that colossal amounts of money had been paid out in fraudulent claims made by alleged “survivors” of German war crimes. One Jewish news service referred to it as “massive fraud,” an episode that potentially could “sully the whole Jewish effort to recoup compensation for Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis.”
In a story posted in, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that so far about $4.3 million has been recovered from the fraud, and that an additional $3.3 million is scheduled to be returned in installment payments. Well that’s nice. But out of a total of how much? In other words, how much has been bilked altogether? No one seems to know for sure, but it is at least $57 million, and perhaps higher. Even the directors of the CC don’t seem to know.
“Never in the six-decade history of the organization had theft of this scale ever been discovered,” reported the JTA (emphasis added).
What is certain is that the operation involved CC employees and that the money looted came out of the Article 2 and Hardship Funds. Apparently a group of “corrupt Russian-speaking employees of the Claims Conference” (as the JTA refers to them) hired “recruiters” to go around the Russian-speaking community in New York and sign up all comers for Holocaust reparations payments. Whether the applicants were even old enough to have been survivors mattered little as long as they were close enough to pass. Forged or altered documents such as birth certificates, passports, and other identifying materials, were submitted, along with the fraudulent applications, while employee accomplices within the CC gave quick approval to the claims. Some of these employees received as much as $1000 per applicant—while the recruiters of course got a cut too.
So far 31 people have been arrested in the case, and the first sentence was handed down a year ago—to one of the recruiters, Polina Anoshina, who enlisted 30 people for the scheme. Her efforts resulted in the pay out of about $105,000 in fraudulent claims, of which she herself netted approximately $9,000. Her lawyer called her “a very small part of a very large wheel.”
Also interesting to note is that estimates of the total amount stolen have gone steadily upward with the passage of time. In December of 2009, roughly a month after the irregularities were discovered, the figure was put at $5 million. By February of 2010 this had risen to $7 million, and in November of 2010 to $42 million. Today, as I said, the number stands at $57 million, although officials acknowledge it could rise even higher. All of this, keep in mind, has been paid for by the German taxpayers.
But as I say, this isn’t the only controversy the CC has found itself in. The issue of survivor claims was also examined in the 2000 book, The Holocaust Industry, by Norman Finkelstein, who discusses how the number of Holocaust survivors has been exaggerated, and who also takes to task the World Jewish Congress for its legal campaign to extort reparations payments from Swiss banks.
And then came the 2006 revelations about exorbitant salaries and lavish expense accounts enjoyed by CC employees, including its then-President Israel Singer. It was a discovery that came at a time when the CC was under heavy fire for giving large sums of money to Jewish organizations while providing only minimal assistance to presumably genuine Holocaust survivors.
IRS reports show that there are 100 employees of the Claims Conference who enjoy salaries of close to 6.9 million dollars. Add to this the lavish spending of money which could otherwise be used to save Holocaust survivors from becoming destitute: The heads of the Claims Conference enjoy many benefits, including first class travel around the world, deluxe hotel accommodation and dining at fancy restaurants.
The above is found in a December 2006 story posted at the Israeli website Ynet, entitled “Where Did the Shoah Money Go?”. The story informs us the CC’s management expenses were reaching “tens of millions of dollars each year” while at the same time individual survivors such as “N”—quoted in the story—were in desperate need of additional funds. “I live in an Amidar apartment, spend thousands of shekels on medication and I have nothing to eat,” said “N.” “I telephoned organizations who are supposed to help Holocaust victims and the Claims Conference and asked for some help from, but they waved me off.”
The story found that the CC was distributing some $90 million a year, but that a substantial amount of this was going to Jewish organizations rather than individuals in need. “In reality, not enough money actually reaches the survivors.” The Israeli Hasidic group Gur Hasidim and the Jewish Agency are identified as receiving CC funding, along with “an American ambulance organization” and “certain hospitals in Israel,” but apparently these were only a small number of the total.
At the time the scandal broke, Israel Singer, in addition to heading the CC, was also serving as secretary general of the World Jewish Congress. In January of that year Eliot Spitzer, then New York State Attorney General, issued a damning report on how money was being handled by the WJC, including apparent financial irregularities “amounting to millions of dollars,” according to Ynet. These included the “circular transfers” of some $1.2 million from the accounts of the WJC in New York to a bank account in Geneva, then on to an account in England, and finally ending up in an account held by a private company called Solar.
Spitzer revealed the use of money by Singer for personal purposes. In his report, he describes, for example, how Singer managed to accumulate more than 450,000 points on his credit cards. Singer held several credit cards, including the exclusive black card of American Express, "Centurion", which is restricted to only the rich and famous. This magnificent card gives its holder unlimited credit and the cost of holding such a card is thousands of dollars a year. In total, according to Spitzer's assessment, Singer withdrew in cash approximately USD 671,000 to disburse on overseas trips (see WJC response below).
For example, in 2003, he submitted to the WJC, expense accounts amounting to USD 431,129 and in 2004, in the amount of USD 261,294. A breakdown of Singer's movements show that he flew to almost the entire world, sometimes together with his wife. For example, for two tickets to Germany, he paid (at the expense of the WJC, of course) USD 24,000. On the same day in September 2003, he paid an additional USD 1,000 for another flight. Six days later, his flight to Europe cost USD 12,000 and a week later, he paid EL AL USD 8,500. This was all paid by the WJC.
The total of all Singer's flights in 2003 was approximately USD 232,000 and the cost of his hotel accommodation amounted to approximately USD 173,000. In 2004, he really cut back and the cost of his flights and accommodation came to approximately USD 200,000.
Singer lives in New York, but this did not inhibit him from staying at deluxe hotels in the Big Apple, on which he spent in 2003 approximately USD 60,000 of WJC funds. In that year, he also stayed in deluxe hotels in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Geneva, Rio de Janeiro, Budapest, London – as well as in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In addition, he withdrew more than USD 134,000 in cash from the WJC account in New York and claimed before the Attorney General that he used the money for travel purposes.
Apparently Singer’s travel expenses were paid for by the WJC rather than the CC, at least if we go by the statement of CC spokesperson Renana Levin:
“According to the procedures of the Claims Conference, the role of the President of the Claims Conference is to deal with foreign policy and he does not deal with internal financial affairs of the organization,” Levin said. “I want to stress that the Claims Conference did not finance any of the travels made by Israel Singer on its behalf.”
Levin was also asked why the CC was paying out so much money to Jewish organizations rather than individual survivors:
"The Claims Conference allocates budgets for organizations and institutions who provide social services to Jews persecuted by the Nazis. The organization also allocates funds to organizations and institutions which work in education, documentation and research of the Holocaust.
"Over the years, money was allocated to "Bet Yaacov" and the seminar of Hasidut Gur to train educators to teach the Holocaust to Haredi communities.
"The allocation to the 'March of the Living' amutah is defined by the Conference as an Israeli allocation, because all the participants, who come from all over the world, visit Israel at the end of the trip. In addition, the Conference funds scholarships of youth with limited means to participate in the March."
So German reparations money is being allocated to “teach the Holocaust” to Haredi Jews? Do Haredi Jews need to learn something additional about the Holocaust that isn’t already taught in public schools? Perhaps. The March of the Living, according to Wikipedia, is “an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust.” The two week event, which includes a march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, ostensibly benefits the students by “strengthening their sense of Jewish identity.” The Wikipedia article adds:
After spending a week in Poland visiting other sites of Nazi Germany's persecution and former sites of Jewish life and culture, many of the participants in the March also travel on to Israel where they observe Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Remembrance Day) and celebrate Yom Haatzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).
of the Living— an annual “Holocaust |
education program” funded by Germany
In April of 2007, the Jewish Week reported that the MOL paid $709,000 to Curtis Hoxter, a Manhattan public relations consultant, for work that neither he nor the MOL were able to adequately explain.
March of the Living employed Hoxter from 2003 through 2005 at the urging of Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, who founded the organization. Hirchson is currently on leave from his cabinet post due to a police investigation into allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars in funds from a union confederation and a health care fund.
The story identified Hoxter as “a close and longtime associate of Claims Conference President Israel Singer,” and thus maybe not surprisingly the MOL was also found to have been getting funding from the WJC—specifically $657,000 between 2001 and 2003. Furthermore, the outlays were not reported on the WJC’s tax forms, the report stated.
The CC seems at this point to have gone into damage control mode, announcing it would conduct an “in-depth audit” of the MOL, but significantly the audit was to cover only those “procedures of March of the Living that are currently in place,” meaning the year 2007. Specifically excluded from the focus were to be any improprieties that may have taken place from 2003-2005, the period Hoxter was employed. But then, apparently responding to criticism, the CC reversed course and announced that it would examine the earlier years in question after all—however, by 2009 the audit still had not been completed.
Singer Takes a Bow
Singer served as secretary general of the WJC from 1986-2001, but stepped down from this position following allegations of financial irregularities, even though, as Ynet notes, there were no criminal findings. And while he resigned his position as top executive officer, he did not leave the WJC altogether. Far from it. Instead he became the chairman of the organization’s Governing Board “after it was made clear that he would not deal with financial affairs.” So why was Singer allowed to remain in a leadership position, even though he had been suspected of financial mismanagement? The answer seems to be that he got results.
A 2003 article entitled “Restitution: The Second Round,” is quite telling on this count. The article is posted at the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and includes lengthy excerpts of an interview with Singer. The words “The Second Round” refer to efforts by international Jewish organizations, beginning in the early 1990s, to extract additional restitution monies on behalf of purported Holocaust survivors. The feeling seems to have been that while the Luxembourg Agreement was nice, more penance was needed, and it shouldn’t be just Germany alone; other countries should be forced to pay up as well. These additional countries included Norway, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland; also the Soviet Union had just collapsed, and so the former East bloc countries were targeted too. Throughout the interview, Singer goes skipping from country to country, describing his mostly successful efforts at pressuring governments, as well as private banks, into coughing up reparations payments.
"In that year we chose Norway as our first target among the occupied countries. When we started complaining about the Norwegian government's behavior, Michael Melchior, the country's chief rabbi, told us more about what had happened during the rule of the Quisling government and after the war.
"We could also have fixed the Netherlands as our first target. We wanted, however, to start with a nation where we were reasonably sure we would win. We thus chose Norway not for moral or justice reasons, but strategic ones. It was a guilty country with a small number of Jews.
"As far as money was concerned, the problem there was easily manageable. Norway is rich and has abundant oil reserves. Whatever payment the Norwegians were to make to the Jewish community or to individuals would not affect their well-being. Paying out some money to Holocaust survivors would not mean individual Norwegians would have to make sacrifices. On the other hand, the result would be limited as it would not really change the lives of the Jews who received the funds….
"Everyone was aware that among Ukrainians and Lithuanians there were many anti-Semites. Norway however had maintained its gentle image, despite severe discrimination against its surviving Jews after the Holocaust.”
The East bloc:
"When I became secretary-general in 1985, I visited Hungary and then other eastern European countries, including Russia. The WJC had initiated negotiations with these countries in order to let the Jews there freely emigrate. In the process we also met government-appointed Jewish leaders who opposed these efforts. The old Jews I saw in the synagogues - some of them literally starving - were afraid to talk to us. During the Holocaust these people had either been in concentration camps, slave labor camps, or in hiding. They did not receive any restitution from Germany. Many of them have since died.
"In the mid-eighties I spoke to the East German Prime Minister Erich Honecker. I asked him to accept joint responsibility for what Germany had done to the Jews in the Holocaust. At first he refused. Thereafter, he began negotiating with us, eyeing a kind of most favored nation status with the U.S. similar to the one already enjoyed by Romania. He offered an initial hundred million dollar payment…
"After the fall of communism, the eastern European countries wanted to be acceptable to the West. They dealt with many problems except one: their obligation to restitute the property stolen from millions of Jews. The financial side of our claims was important, yet secondary to the historical one. There were so many scandals attached to the restitution process in these countries that would cause much publicity.
"In 1992 the WJC and the Jewish Agency - together with seven other Jewish organizations - created the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). Its aim was to negotiate on Jewish war claims with eastern European countries; they were not part of the Claims Conference's mandate which was specifically limited to Germany and Austria. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote the WJRO a letter naming it Israel's representative in these negotiations.”
Of course for all of these endeavors to be successful, the idea of Jewish victimization had to be reinforced and heavily promoted. Singer claimed new historical research showed that “27,600 trainloads of Jewish property” were stolen by the Germans. “No one was reimbursed for these thefts, but the principle of theft was established,” he insisted.
"Among Israeli Prime Ministers, Binyamin Netanyahu was probably the best partner we had. Earlier, in the 1980s, when he was Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, he had participated in the unmasking of the war past of former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim [who was at that time president of Austria]. Since Ehud Barak also supported us, we have had almost continuous backing from Israeli prime ministers…
"Things started moving in many countries. To our surprise, in 1997 the British Government called a conference in London on looted gold. Foreign Minister Robin Cook, who was extremely anti-Israel, initiated this conference because he considered it part of 'a foreign policy with a moral face.' His behavior followed a classic pattern: one is anti-Israel and then tries to compensate for that by being good for Diaspora Jews. French President Jacques Chirac's attitude is another typical example of such behavior.
"After so many years, news was emerging on Jewish properties in Poland and restitution issues re-surfaced in Germany. From my personal viewpoint, the CEF agreement with the Germans is the most significant moral victory. This body, the Central European Foundation of Repair to European Jews, now makes life pensions available to 92,000 East European Jews. The Austrians suddenly were willing to make new payments because it was bad publicity for them when we made agreements with the Germans at the same time stressing how horribly the Austrians behaved.
"Over the years, an enormous momentum built up. The Swedes, for instance, were trying to make various settlements with us and ultimately took the initiative for the January 2000 Stockholm Conference on Holocaust Education. We had now finally reached critical mass. The restitution process became uncontrollable and rather chaotic. Several countries tried to make private deals by approaching various Jewish organizations and making donations to them.
But Singer’s biggest triumph may have been in Switzerland, where he managed to squeeze some $1. 25 billion out of certain of the nation’s banks:
"The historical research which accompanied the restitution process informed the world of many injustices about which even Jewish leaders knew very little. They had been studied somewhat in the past, but had since been forgotten. This led to the U.S. investigations of the stolen gold the Germans sent to neutral countries in 1997. Simultaneously we became aware of the issue of heirless property in Eastern Europe. We also familiarized ourselves with the subject of the dormant Swiss bank accounts as well as the insurance policies which had not been paid. The revelations in one country impacted on another and vice versa."…
"Some people had been well aware - long before the WJC - of the dormant Swiss accounts and the banks' resistance to help heirs reclaim money due to them. Paul Erdman - an author who had many other grievances against the Swiss banks - wrote a novel called The Swiss Account. It was only around 1994 that we discovered that there was much official documentation available on the heirless and other accounts.
"Allen Dulles had been the American consul during the War in the Swiss capital Bern, where he spied on money transfers from Germany to Switzerland. Later, in his autobiography he mentioned a project initiated in 1944, called 'Safehaven.' It was part of economic warfare against the Axis and aimed at blocking the transfer of German assets to neutral countries.
"When Dulles became the head of the CIA in 1953, he attempted to blot out all information about this project. When we started investigating we learned about Safehaven's existence from the autobiography he wrote many years later. We could access a multitude of documents concerning it under the Freedom of Information Act."
A visit today to the official Swiss Banks Settlement website, shows that claims filed are subdivided into certain classes. For instance, persons could qualify for payments under the “Refugee Class” if they “were denied entry into or expelled from Switzerland, or admitted into Switzerland but abused or mistreated.” There is also a “Slave Labor Class I” that applies to “those claimants who performed slave labor for German and other companies which may have transacted their profits through Swiss entities.” The website also informs us that the claimants were not limited to Jews, but also included Roma, Jehovah’s Witness, homosexual, or disabled claimants.
This targeting of Swiss banks is also discussed by Norman Finkelstein in his book The Holocaust Industry. In an article here, Finkelstein calls the case against Switzerland “dubious at best,” yet as he relates, a number of US political leaders threw their weight behind the effort to force the Swiss to pay up:
The Swiss stood accused of directly and indirectly profiting from the Nazi persecution of Jews. Acting at Israel's behest, the World Jewish Restitution Organization mobilized officials at the federal, state and local levels in the United States to press Switzerland for Holocaust compensation. A senior official in the Clinton administration, Stuart Eizenstat, conscripted twelve federal agencies for this initiative. A major international conference was convened in London. The House and Senate banking committees held multiple hearings. Class action lawsuits against Switzerland were filed in American courts. State and local legislatures across the United States implemented economic boycotts.
If the Holocaust reparations game has become in essence a racket, the U.S. very much plays the role of enforcer. And this cuts across both Democrats and Republicans. In the article at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Singer talks about how Bill Clinton and then-New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato were recruited to the cause:
"Thereafter, things started changing mainly because we managed to get two major players involved. On the same day, we went to the Republican Senator of New York, Alfonse D'Amato and President Clinton. Their relationship was extremely unpleasant because as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, D'Amato was investigating Clinton on the Whitewater affair.
"Both sought re-election, yet had severe problems: the President was under investigation and D'Amato was not showing visible success. Clinton - despite his extreme dislike of D'Amato - was willing to collaborate with him on the restitution issue. D'Amato who has a huge Jewish constituency, said that the Jewish case was a just one and there weren't many Swiss voters in the United States anyhow."
Singer doubts whether the Bush administration would have been similarly forthcoming, as it is so strongly supportive of Israel. "You always see that administrations will back you on relatively marginal issues if they cannot do so on central ones. The reverse is also true because once they are supportive on critically important matters, they don't have to bother much about other ones. The one exception was the struggle for Soviet Jewry where all administrations have been supportive of the Jews, even if they were lukewarm on Israel."
Singer took an old woman to see D'Amato. She told him her father had an account in Switzerland and she was turned away when she had gone to inquire about it in 1946. They had wanted her father's death certificate from Auschwitz. D'Amato then related the story on television.
"We first approached Clinton through Hillary. When she heard we were working with D'Amato, she said, 'It's like Haman and Mordechai working together.' She knew her Bible better than the Jews and she could have thus been seen as Queen Esther. The President said, 'You have my full presidential support.'"
As Finkelstein noted (see above), class action lawsuits were filed in U.S. courts. The question of course is would the Swiss be afforded a fair judgment in the American judicial system? The words “dubious at best” would again seem to apply if we examine Singer’s comments on the matter:
"In 1996 we convinced Alan Hevesi, the Jewish comptroller of New York City, to collaborate with us. His office manages many billion dollars of investments. In that year we organized a meeting of 800 state financial officers and comptrollers from government bodies under his chairmanship. Together they managed a total of thirty trillion dollars of funds. They indicated that if the Swiss banks did not solve the dormant accounts issue, they would no longer do business with them. The Swiss thought that these threats could lead to a major worldwide boycott.
"Hevesi was inclined to discuss a boycott on behalf of the 800 financial officers against the Swiss banks. He wrote a letter to Judge Edward Korman, who was dealing with the class actions against them in New York, informing him of what was going on. I kept stressing we did not want a boycott.
"In April 1996 the chairmen of the three major Swiss banks who felt threatened each wrote me a letter agreeing to the principle of global settlements. In 1997 Judge Korman began holding sessions in camera, on the restitution issues, which finally led to a global settlement. Strangely enough, all actors in the hearing were Jewish: the judge, the bank representatives and the lawyers."
From presidents and senators, all the way down to city comptrollers, the pressure was applied. Like the Germans at the Luxembourg negotiations more than 40 years previously, the Swiss now had little chance of avoiding the financial hit coming their way. Finkelstein sheds additional light on the coercion tactics:
The chairman of the House Banking Committee, James Leach, maintained that states must be held accountable for injustices even if committed a half-century ago: 'History does not have a statute of limitations.' Eizenstat deemed Swiss compensation to Jewry 'an important litmus test of this generation's willingness to face the past and rectify the wrongs of the past.' Although they couldn't be 'held responsible for what took place years ago,' Senator Alfonse D'Amato of the Senate Banking Committee acknowledged that the Swiss still had a 'duty of accountability and of attempting to do what is right at this point in time.' Publicly endorsing the Jewish demand for compensation, President Clinton likewise reflected that 'we must confront and, as best we can, right the terrible injustice of the past.' 'It should be made clear,' bipartisan Congressional leaders wrote in a letter to the Secretary of State, that the 'response on this restitution matter will be seen as a test of respect for basic human rights and the rule of law.' And in address to the Swiss Parliament, Secretary of State Albright explained that economic benefits Switzerland accrued from the plundering of Jews 'were passed along to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland, not to assume responsibility for actions taken by their forbears, but to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs.'
But as stated above, it wasn’t only Switzerland in the crosshairs. US officials began flagellating the countries of Eastern Europe as well. Again from Finkelstein:
In negotiations with Eastern Europe, Jewish organizations and Israel have demanded the full restitution of or monetary compensation for the pre-war communal and private assets of the Jewish community. Consider Poland. The pre-war Jewish population of Poland stood at 3.5 million; the current population is several thousand. Yet, the World Jewish Restitution Organization demands title over the 6,000 pre-war communal Jewish properties, including those currently being used as hospitals and schools. It is also laying claim to hundreds of thousands of parcels of Polish land valued in the many tens of billions of dollars. Once again the entire US political and legal establishment has been mobilized to achieve these ends. Indeed, New York City Council members unanimously supported a resolution calling on Poland 'to pass comprehensive legislation providing for the complete restitution of Holocaust assets', while 57 members of Congress (led by Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York) dispatched a letter to the Polish parliament demanding 'comprehensive legislation that would return 100% of all property and assets seized during the Holocaust'.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Stuart Eizenstat deplored the lax pace of evictions in Eastern Europe: 'A variety of problems have arisen in the return of properties. For example, in some countries, when persons or communities have attempted to reclaim properties, they have been asked, sometimes required ... to allow current tenants to remain for a lengthy period of time at rent-controlled rates.' The delinquency of Belarus particularly exercised Eizenstat. Belarus is 'very, very far' behind in handing over pre-war Jewish properties, he told the House International Relations Committee. The average monthly income of a Belarussian is $100.
To force submission from recalcitrant governments, those seeking Jewish restitution wield the bludgeon of US sanctions. Eizenstat urged Congress to 'elevate' Holocaust compensation, put it 'high on the list' of requirements for those East European countries that are seeking entry into the OECD, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, NATO and the Council of Europe: 'They will listen if you speak ... They will get the hint.' Israel Singer, of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, called on Congress to 'continue looking at the shopping list' in order to 'check' that every country pays up. 'It is extremely important that the countries involved in the issue understand,' Congressman Benjamin Gilman of the House International Relations Committee said, 'that their response ... is one of several standards by which the United States assesses its bilateral relationship.' Avraham Hirschson, chairman of Israel's Knesset Committee on restitution and Israel's representative on the World Jewish Restitution Organization, paid tribute to Congressional cooperation. Recalling his 'fights' with the Romanian prime minister, Hirschson testified: 'But I ask one remark, in the middle of the fighting, and it changed that atmosphere. I told him, you know, in two days I am going to be in a hearing here in Congress. What do you want me to tell them in the hearing? The whole atmosphere was changed.'
And of course, if all the additional countries named above could be squeezed for money, there was no reason Germany shouldn’t have to pay out even more. Was there? Certainly not in the view of the Jewish organizations involved. Thus the newly-reunified Germany, too, became a target of “the second round” of the Holocaust racket. Again from Singer:
"One of his (East German Prime Minister Erich Honecker) successors, Lothar de Maiziere, bridged the transition from Honecker's offer to the claim against unified Germany. This gave us the opportunity to present our claim to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, saying that one cannot take over East Germany's assets without inheriting its part of the responsibility toward the Jews. He then recognized the principle of our claim.
"Many Jewish leaders considered these efforts worthless as they saw no chance of success. Today all the Claims Conference's funds come from these endeavors. The new pensions for Soviet and eastern European Jews and those who emigrated to Israel from these countries are paid from monies obtained from claims against Germany after unification."
Singer also discussed with his interviewer the secrets of his success over the years in pushing his cause. A lot of it seems to have to do with being as abrasive as possible and playing the “anti-Semite” card:
"There is often criticism about the aggressive methods we've used. A small organization confronting powerful unyielding governments cannot be soft if it wants to achieve anything. If I had listened to all the good Jewish advisors who said we shouldn't scream, the survivors would not have received anything. Fighting for the truth cannot be done in a nuanced way.
"I approached German Prime Minister Helmut Kohl as head of a state which had stolen money from the Jews. He told me my behavior was unpleasant. I answered that I had no reason to be nice. As he viewed Germany as a superpower, he kept telling me, after we had reached an agreement, that we had defeated his country. It is only because we succeeded that he respects the Jews and me. Many leading European politicians made outright nasty remarks. [French President Jacques] Chirac, for instance, told me that Jews are the cause of anti-Semitism in France and everywhere else.
"It became clear when dealing with the Swiss bankers, that they were anti-Semites. A senior banker in one of our early meetings asked me, 'What do you mean when you talk about the wealth of the Jews? I saw pictures of the Jews of Europe in Roman Vishniac's book, A Vanished World. They had rags on their feet.'
"I told him the Jews in Vienna - where my parents had lived - were university professors, founders of psychology, fathers of modern rationalism, the initiators of human rights and the bankers who had given the Swiss bankers' grandfathers jobs. I made it clear to him that his remarks were abusive and anti-Semitic. Then Avraham Burg related this story to the newspapers.
"A Swiss Jewish banker told me that his non-Jewish colleagues had always been anti-Semites and even though he sat on their side of the table, they considered him to be one of their Jewish counterparts."
Singer also has his eyes set on works of art that allegedly once belonged to Jews, and he looks forward “to the day when I can walk into an auction house and say, ‘This picture is stolen; it belongs to the Jewish people. You can’t sell it.’ I want to be arrested and taken away handcuffed and attract media attention. I have done many things in my life, but not this yet,” he confided.
Had Singer confined his “reparations” harvest to art dealers, Swiss bankers, and anxiety-ridden government leaders, he might eventually have ridden off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, hailed as a genuine, true-blue Jewish hero. But there are some who didn’t seem to feel he was worthy of hero status, and one of these was Edgar Bronfman, president of the WJC, who in March of 2007 fired Singer as the organization’s chairman.
Bronfman said he discovered Singer “had helped himself to cash from the WJC office, my cash.” The activity, he said, had been going on for “a very long time,” and he went on to add, “The final blow came when we discovered that he was playing games with his hotel bills in Jerusalem.”
Singer responded that Bronfman would “regret having stained my good name.”
Commenting on his longtime friendship with Singer, Bronfman said he went through “many weeks of crying to find out that I was so badly used by a man I used to love.”
Keep in mind this took place in March of 2007—a bit over a year after Spitzer’s report on WJC financial irregularities had been issued. As in 2001, no criminal charges were filed. However, in June of 2007 Singer voluntarily ended his presidency at the CC as well.
‘I always knew I wanted to do Jewish’
“I was petrified somebody would find this out before we could make it clear that we were on top of it. I insisted we go to the authorities immediately,” he said.
And in fact, the article at the JTA paints Schneider as something of a knight in shining armor who managed to avert total disaster—first by spotting the fraud; then by contacting CC Chairman Julius Berman initially, and then the FBI; and thereafter by cooperating fully with the investigation.
Over the next couple of days, Berman, Schneider and senior leaders at the Claims Conference tried to figure out a game plan. If word was to leak that the organization had allowed millions of dollars to be fraudulently obtained from Germany in the name of Holocaust survivors, it could jeopardize the Claims Conference’s entire operations, its relationship with the Germans and the distribution of hundreds of millions per year to Holocaust survivors around the world.
Uriel Heilman, the JTA writer, goes on to relate how the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office praised the CC for its “extraordinary continued cooperation.” Heilman additionally noted that “perhaps most important, the Germans seem to trust Schneider.”
A different view of Schneider is expressed by Finkelstein:
The biggest crooks are not those who embezzled money from the Crooks’ Conference but those who run it, in particular the filthy Greg Schneider.
While Schneider, as mentioned above, became head of the CC in 2009, his employment with the organization actually began in 1995 after he obtained a master’s degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Heilman even discusses Schneider’s early life on a farm in Connecticut, as well as a trip to Israel at the age of 15.
“After a few days in Israel, I felt more at home and more connected than I did in 15 years on the farm,” Schneider told Heilman. “I didn’t fit in with that farm life. I always knew I wanted to do Jewish.”
‘As impossible to anticipate as the attacks of 9/11’
You might think that with a $57 million scandal on the books, the CC might have seen some resignations at the top. But no, that has not happened. Both Schneider and Berman remain on the job, and both have varying justifications for why this is so. For Schneider it seems largely a matter of regarding himself as, well, indispensable.
Schneider, who was COO of the Claims Conference when the fraud was happening before he became the organization’s chief executive, said the notion that he should be the one to resign is misplaced and counterproductive . Schneider, whose formal title is executive vice president, says he’s indispensable and that nobody is more committed or better suited to rooting out the fraud.
“There’s too much at stake here,” Schneider told JTA. “It would be detrimental to the organization. It would be detrimental to survivors. The results are more important than the symbolism of a resignation.”
But for Berman it appears a case of ataraxia has set in. Berman didn’t do anything wrong, he maintains—so why on earth should he quit?
“I feel no fault at all,” he said. “Whether I’m a lay chairman or a CEO, it’s the kind of process that I had nothing whatsoever to do with instituting.”
Calling the controls that the Claims Conference had in place to prevent fraud “reasonably adequate,” Berman said the deception was as impossible to anticipate as the attacks of 9/11. “Until it happens once,” he added. “Then you’re on notice that something you never foresaw can happen.”
Though perhaps it was unintended, Berman’s analogy to 9/11 gives rise to a measure of levity. But let’s not forget that other “indispensable” higher-ups—either in or out of the loop—were also on hand as the fraud was occurring. One was Gideon Taylor, who comes from a family of powerful Jews—whose grandfather was Samuel Fisher, a British lord and former president of the Board of Directors of British Jews.
Schneider’s predecessor, Gideon Taylor, under whose 10-year tenure the fraud ran undetected, declined to be interviewed on the subject.
“The day I left I made a decision: I’m not going to speak publicly about the Claims Conference because I’ve moved on,” Taylor told the JTA. “It is what it is.”
Yes, Taylor has moved on, but not that terribly far, and the grass in his new location also seems pretty green:
Taylor is now COO of programs at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in Jewish aid annually around the world -- approximately $110 million of which comes from the Claims Conference. The money, designated for aid programs to Jews in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, constitutes slightly less than one-third of the JDC’s total annual budget.
Just after announcing his intentions to leave the CC, Taylor shared some thoughts on life, loot, and Israel with the Jewish Chronicle, commenting, “Of all the times to have been at the Claims Conference, this was probably the busiest, with the big agreements on slave labour, the discussions with Swiss banks and negotiations with insurance companies.” The date on the article is April 2, 2009—less than three months after Israel’s murderous assault upon Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. Taylor went on to say: “We are living in turbulent times for the Jewish world and Israel. There are the economic challenges, the security and political challenges and the atmosphere.”
One former CC higher-up who is facing charges in the affair is Semen Domnitser. According to the JTA, Domnitser oversaw the Hardship and Article 2 Funds. Through his lawyers he has maintained his innocence.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the 60th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement was marked in July of 2012 with observances held in Washington. Interesting to note is that those observances followed close on the heels of yet another victory for the Holocaust reparations racket—again at the expense of German taxpayers. On Monday, July 9, the first day of the observances, it was announced that negotiations between German officials and the CC had resulted in an agreement to extend reparations payments to an additional 80,000 purported survivors living in the former Soviet Union. The agreement will result in a payout of about $300 million.
“It has never been about the money,” claimed Berman, who was on hand for the festivities at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. “It has always been about the recognition, the validation, the acknowledgement. Today for the first time in 60 years, we can say that every Holocaust victim alive today is entitled to some form or recognition. We are all painfully aware that we are entering the twilight years for survivors. All we can do is hope to make their final years ones of dignity and promise to carry the lessons of the Shoah forward.”
Various German officials were also present, and some of their remarks are striking:
Ludger Schlief, head of the finance policy division of the Federal Chancellery of Germany, said that restitution for Shoah survivors will not be a victim of the current European currency crisis. Payments to Shoah victims is “an especially high priority of the government of Angela Merkel during her terms in office,” Schlief said. Though Germany is facing “enormous challenges” in the current European economic situation, “This and other crises will not deter Germany from its historic responsibility,” he said.
And Dr. Peter Ammon, Ambassador of Germany to the United States, stressed that the nation understands its burden of history and will continue to fulfill its historic and moral responsibility to those who suffered under the Third Reich. “Germany has accepted its historical responsibility and will do so for generations to come,” said Ammon.
Will all of this end when the last Holocaust survivor dies? Or will the penance and restitution go on for “generations to come,” as Ammon puts it? Perhaps the case of Croatia offers us an indicator. In an address before the Israeli Knesset on February 15 of this year, Croatian President Ivo Josipović issued a groveling apology for his country’s role in the events of the Nazi era.
"We need to look into our hearts, and to come to terms with the darkest stain in our history. Here I am, standing before the parliament of the Jewish state, and more importantly, in front of people born in Croatia, and with no ambiguity, I apologize and I ask for forgiveness from all the Holocaust survivors and all the victims,” Josipović said.
|Josipović —“I ask for forgiveness”|
So what does Eizenstat want exactly? Well according to Haaretz, he desires Croatia to “commence with a restitution program and the formation of an independent commission of international scholars to examine the country’s wartime past.”
The matter is discussed in a recent article by former Israeli Roy Tov, who informs us that similar demands are being made upon Serbia—also seeking EU membership.
For a second I was so puzzled that I opened timeanddate.com just to make sure that today was June 22, 2012. Yet, the interview I had just read in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz seemed taken from the 1950s. Yesterday, former Under Secretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat—who served in the Clinton Administration—told the newspaper that the EU must encourage Coratia and Serbia to take responsibility for their roles in the Holocaust before granting them EU membership…
I apologize to the Honorable Mr. Eizenstat, but his strategy, succinctly summarized by him as “once they’re in, the leverage is lost,” is nothing but an extortion attempt. Extortion is a crime which occurs when money, property, or services are obtained from somebody through coercion. The extortionist refrain from doing harm is called protection, or “Vitamin P” in Israel. The difference between extortion and robbery is that extortion involves a written or verbal threat whereas robbery can occur without any verbal or written threat. Mr. Eizenstat, your implied threat to deny Croatioon membership in the EU was a crime.
Singer’s comments about how he would like to walk into an art auction one day and say—“This picture is stolen; it belongs to the Jewish people. You can’t sell it.”—should also be kept in mind. A visit to the CC’s website shows that the organization is pursuing a “worldwide intensified effort for the restitution of cultural and religious property looted from Jews” with a special emphasis of taking possession of works of art. This is spelled out very clearly:
Restitution efforts in this area have in the past yielded far fewer results than efforts to restitute other assets such as property and financial holdings. The reasons for this lack of progress include the ease of transporting art across international borders, the lack of public records documenting original ownership, the difficulty of tracing art transactions through the decades, and the lack of a central authority to arbitrate claims for artwork.
The Claims Conference and the WJRO have begun to work with relevant Jewish communities and governments around the world to bring increased attention to the restitution of looted movable cultural and religious property. The organizations are focusing on the systemic issues involved in art restitution with the intent of improving and creating processes to enable more owners and heirs to recover their property.
The return of plundered artworks and religious artifacts often has meaning beyond that of the restitution of other types of assets. These were personal possessions valued for their beauty and cultural significance, often handed down through several generations. In many cases, these artworks or artifacts are the last personal link heirs may have to families destroyed in the Holocaust. Many of these artworks have ended up in museums around the world, with no centralized method for families to locate them.
So who will pay for this? Will the museums in which the artworks presently reside be forced to bite the bullet? Or will Germany, the other countries, and the Swiss banks be obliged to bear the costs? Perhaps an arrangement could be worked out under which the banks, museums and national governments will each divvy up an equal amount? One thing is for sure. If the issue is pressed, somebody (regardless of what the actual historic facts may be) will end up paying…and paying…and we can probably safely assume it won’t be Jews.
Let us also return briefly to the comments of Ludger Schlief, the German finance minister quoted above. You’ll recall Schlief conceded that his country faces “enormous challenges” with regard to the EU’s current economic crisis, but that this “will not deter Germany from its historic responsibility.” Is the feeling, then, that no matter how tough times get for the rest of us, Jews who may have suffered at some point in the past must at all costs be provided for? This seems to be Schlief’s view as well as the CC’s. And in fact, a principle bearing strong resemblance to this is being applied now in one of the hardest hit European countries—Greece—where the CC is tripling its aid to purported survivors. The matter was discussed in a JTA article posted just two months ago:
Some 5,000 Jews are living in Greece, including more than 500 Holocaust survivors who have seen their living conditions and social services deteriorate rapidly as the country struggles with the fifth year of a harsh recession.
Government pensions have been slashed, income from property rentals have fallen significantly and there have been steep tax hikes and price rises. At the same time, state social services and medical assistance has been significantly reduced.
“Today’s economic crisis has made these survivors more vulnerable than ever at a time in their lives when they most need aid,” Gregory Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, wrote in a report on the new assistance.
“The Claims Conference is taking dramatic and immediate action to help ease their situation as much as possible and to prevent a crisis from becoming a catastrophe for this vulnerable population.”
The article also informs us that an allocation of “nearly $120,000” will be given to the Jewish Museum of Greece—for yet another Holocaust education program.
As for Schneider’s thoughts on the $57 million that went missing, he feels far too much attention has been paid to this and not enough to his organizations accomplishments—and he believes those accomplishments are considerable.
“This is the last moment of the last generation of survivors. We have to give them the dignity they deserve. We only have a few years left when we can still make a difference,” he says.
Does he feel that at some point the CC and other Jewish organizations may have overplayed their hands and gotten a little too greedy? Apparently not.
“The Germans say, when will it ever end? Hasn’t it been enough already?” Schneider said, then added: “The suffering hasn’t ended. The nightmares haven’t ended. How can you possibly say enough? It won’t be enough until the very last survivor, and even then it won’t be enough.”
By Richard Edmondson
Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of history is that since approval of the Luxembourg Agreement 60 years ago, Jews have been collecting reparations payments for offenses that in some cases are identical to those which they themselves have inflicted upon the Palestinians in the same period.
For instance : Jews who became “refugees and stateless persons” in the Nazi era may qualify for assistance under the Hardship Fund which is administered by the Claims Conference. Additionally those Jews who also “suffered considerable damage to health as a result of Nazi persecution” would equally qualify for reparations under the same fund.
How many Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, have been denied access to needed medical care or life-saving drugs and suffered ill-health effects as a result? How many, due to the Israeli blockade, have been prevented from leaving Gaza to get treatment at hospitals in Egypt or Israel?
The Hardship Fund also offers assistance to those Jews who fled “from areas of the Soviet Union that were generally up to 100 kilometers from the most easterly advance of the German army (Wehrmacht) but were not later occupied by the Nazis.” If the same principle applied to Nakba reparations, would not Palestinians who fled into neighboring countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan also be eligible for reparations?
Jews who endured “deprivation of liberty,” as well as “curfew” and “restriction of movement” can also get help from the Hardship Fund. Palestinians in the West Bank have suffered conditions that meet the same identical criteria. Why are they not eligible for reparations?
For those Jews able to meet the eligibility requirements, the Harship Fund provides a one-time payment of 2,556 euros.
But the Article 2 Fund provides much more even than that—a lifetime pension of 300 euros a month. According to the CC website, the Article 2 Fund “is limited to Jewish Holocaust survivors” (apparently Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and non-Jewish homosexuals or disabled do not qualify, whereas these groups are included in the Swiss Banks settlement) that meet certain eligibility requirements. These include those who:
* Were “imprisoned for at least 18 months” in a “ghetto” as defined by the German government
* Were “in hiding for at least 18 months” under “inhumane conditions, without access to the outside world” either in “German Nazi-occupied territory” or in “Nazi satellite states”
* Lived “illegally under false identity or with false papers for at least 18 months” again in a Nazi-occupied territory or satellite state
Interesting to note is that the 18-month requirements in the three conditions above were reduced—to 12 months—as of January 1 this year.
In addition, Article 2 pensions are available to those who “were incarcerated for at least six months” in different categories of facilities, including a “concentration camp as defined in accordance with the German Federal Indemnification Law,” or BEG, as well as various other types of camps or forced labor battalions that are defined under different criteria and located in various geographic regions.
But it doesn’t stop there. The German government, in 2007, established yet another reparations program, entitled the “German Government Ghetto Fund”, or BADV. Under this program a one-time payment of 2,000 euros is given to purported survivors who carried out work “without force” in a ghetto. According to the CC website, the fund was created to “acknowledge ghetto survivors who had otherwise been rejected for German Social Security payments”—(known as the “Ghetto Pension” and created under a separate German law)—“and it came as a response to intense international pressure spearheaded by the Claims Conference.”
Have no doubt about the latter point. Initially, the German Government Ghetto Fund and the Ghetto Pension were set up to be mutually exclusive. People could apply for and receive one or the other, but not both. However, this stipulation has since been done away with. Now those who were confined to a ghetto may receive a pension and a one-time payment!
And then we come to the matter of stolen property. Restitution for stolen or confiscated property has been an ongoing issue since even before the war ended, and efforts to recoup losses have met with varying degrees of success depending on country. According to one source:
At most, 15 percent of Jewish assets confiscated from 1934 to 1945 were returned after the war to their owners, their heirs, and Jewish organizations representing heirless claimants. Within Western Europe, the percentage restored for each country roughly ranged from 10 to 60 percent. In Eastern Europe, restitution was negligible. This meant the value of unrestored assets by the mid-1990s amounted to $120-$180 billion at 2005 prices.
The process was helped along by restitution laws passed by the allied occupation powers from 1947 to 1950. Then in 1957, West Germany passed the BRÜG law to provide “compensation for moveable property stolen by the Nazis, which the claimant could identify but could no longer locate.” This included household goods, bank accounts, jewelry, and securities. Over the years the BRÜG was gradually expanded, with a major change coming in 1994 when the law was expanded to include property stolen in the former East Germany.
By 1954, the value of recovered property amounted to roughly 1 billion DM, or $150 million at late-1930s value. But by 1997, payments under the BRÜG reportedly stood at about 4 billion DM, paid out to roughly 750,000 claimants. The figure amounts to about $400 million in 1930s values.
Then came “the second round” starting in the 1990s. In 1992, the World Jewish Restitution Organization was formed with the purpose of putting the squeeze on the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. The US Congress started holding hearings in the matter and “state banking and insurance regulators (mainly in New York and California) threatened to halt bank mergers involving European banks and not allow insurance companies to do business in their state unless restitution was adequately addressed.” A number of “aggressive class action suits” were filed as well. As this report puts it:
Because of the greater awareness of the issue, European governments and companies were forced to take action. Numerous independent historical commissions were established that documented the means by which the assets were stolen, the complicity of governments, businesses, and individuals in facilitating the looting of Jewish property, and the problems with postwar restitution efforts. This led to apologies by the leaders of several countries.
When it came to returning or paying for stolen assets, however, the negotiations with European countries and businesses were long and arduous. From the mid-1990s to 2006, only some $3.4 billion was pledged to restore unpaid assets directly to survivors or their heirs or as humanitarian funds to account for the many potential claimants who after fifty years lacked proof and/or knowledge of the stolen assets. Most humanitarian funds were designated to support needy survivors, with some money going to help reestablish European Jewish communities. In addition to these pledges, about half a billion dollars was paid via a few high-profile individual art and real estate legal cases, bringing the total to nearly $4 billion.
Another milestone came in 2009 when the Conference on Holocaust Era Assets was held in Prague, attended by 46 nations. Forty-three of them ended up signing a set of guidelines that included: a) recognition of “the legitimate Jewish owners of property seized by the Nazis and their collaborators”; b) the establishment of “transparent and accessible claims processes”; c) allowing full and free access to national archives by claimants; d) the awarding of “full title or fair compensation” for those successful in pressing their claims; and finally, e) “consider allocating the proceeds from unclaimed and heirless property to benefit Holocaust survivors in need.”
One question of course is how much Palestinian property has been stolen in the last 64 years. Would it amount to “27,600 trainloads”? Or perhaps even more? Consider the following video of Israeli soldiers looting sewing machines from a girls orphanage in Hebron:
It is of course outside the scope of this article to document every crime committed by Israel against the Palestinians in the last 64 years, but these crimes include looted property, land confiscation, house demolition, indefinite detention, murder and torture. Instead of trying to milk every last penny they can get out of the Germans, why don’t Jews begin addressing this issue?
Jewish author Norman Finkelstein has suggested that German reparations to the Jews could—and should— serve as a legal precedent to Israeli reparations to the Palestinians.
Apart from the moral link joining Jewish claims against Europe, on the one hand, and Palestinian claims against Israel, on the other, a direct material link potentially joins the respective demands. When Israel first entered into negotiations with Germany for reparations after the war, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe reports, Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett proposed transferring a part to Palestinian refugees, 'in order to rectify what has been called the small injustice (the Palestinian tragedy), caused by the more terrible one (the Holocaust)'. Nothing ever came of the proposal.
Of course since Sharett made his proposal, 60 years have elapsed—60 years in which the crimes have mounted up. Finkelstein continues:
A respected Israeli academic, Clinton Bailey, recently suggested using part of the funds from the Holocaust settlements with Switzerland and Germany for the 'compensation of Palestinian Arab refugees'. Given that almost all survivors of the Nazi holocaust have already passed away, this would seem to be a sensible proposal.
The issue of reparations has also been addressed in the Jerusalem Sabeel Document, drawn up in 2006 by the Palestinian Christian movement Sabeel. Listed in the document are a total of seven “Principles” the organization feels are necessary in order to achieve peace. The first of the seven reads as follows:
Israel must admit that it has committed an injustice against the Palestinian people and must accept responsibility for that. This means that reparation must be paid to all Palestinians who have suffered as a result of the conflict since 1948 whether they are Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians living on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or Palestinians living in the Diaspora. The road to healing and reconciliation passes through repentance, forgiveness and redress.
I would suggest the time has come for Jews, or at any rate those who claim to hold “Jewish values” (whatever those are), to raise their voices and call for reparations to the Palestinians. There are 64 years’ worth of wrongs to be undone (the Nazi era in Germany lasted a mere 12 years), 64 years of crimes to be redressed, and even though the dead cannot be brought back to life, compensation can indeed be paid to the living. Equality is the universal ambition of humanism. Are you Jewish? And if so, can you not find it in your heart to issue a call for reparations for the Palestinians? If the answer to that is no, then you are guilty of the sin of believing that Jewish suffering supersedes all others.
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