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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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The Claims Conference Controversy – In Context

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We take it as a sure sign of the times that the recent stunning news that the Claims Conference had negotiated a four-year $1 billion infusion of funds from the German government to aid Holocaust survivors has been largely overshadowed by criticism that those leading the conference mishandled an internal investigation into the embezzlement of $57 million by some employees over a fifteen-year period.

This is not to suggest that the theft of $57 million is an insignificant thing or that those who have been key to the conference’s achievements should be exempt from criticism or inquiry. It is to lament, though, that public discourse seems more and more driven by those with narrow perspectives and a penchant for “gotcha” journalism.

A bit of history is instructive.

Since 1952 the Claims Conference (its full name is the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) has served as the principal Jewish community liaison with the German government and, in fact, was established to officially negotiate on behalf of Jews around the world who were victims of Nazi persecution. In that capacity, it has negotiated agreements for German aid in a broad array of critical categories for survivors.

In recent years the Claims Conference has also negotiated the establishment of several special programs including monthly payments to approximately 47,000 survivors worldwide, including some 9,800 in the United States. There is also the hardship fund, which provides for one-time payments to certain Holocaust victims not eligible for other compensation. There is a welfare services program to help survivors with homecare (in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the Claims Conference is the sole provider of homecare services to Holocaust survivors). A Claims Conference program makes grants to institutions working in Holocaust research and education in order to ensure that the world never forgets.

All the money in the world will not adequately compensate for what was visited on even one person. Still, agreements negotiated by the Claims Conference with German and Austrian government officials and industry leaders in its six decades have resulted in compensation for more that 500,000 Holocaust survivors and today approximately 97,000 survivors continue to receive payments. The conference has brought a staggering total of $70 billion into the everyday lives of survivors.

With this huge infrastructure of assistance as context, particularly the newly negotiated $1 billion, it is hard to understand why some are focusing exclusively on accusations of mismanagement – particularly when several conference employees went to jail for embezzlement following a federal investigation materially aided by the assistance of the very conference leadership now being attacked.

Further, the Claims Conference has initiated a new internal investigation into how the embezzlers were able to conceal their crimes. All the more reason for not allowing the thefts to unfairly define one of our more important communal efforts.

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8 Responses to “The Claims Conference Controversy – In Context”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is It True the Claims Conference May Be Paying Reparations to an alleged Nazi sympathizer?

    An Open Letter to Claims Conference Chairman, Rabbi Julius Berman.

    by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    Two years ago, I read an article about Alex Kurzem in a Melbourne newspaper. Having watched the "60 minutes" segment in horror and disbelief, I've followed this story and the Jewish Claims Conference's involvement.

    As a Rabbi, I am ashamed by the Conference's lack of scrutiny in its determination of Kurzem's eligibility for reparations – based purely on a tall tale, which now appears even to have included a fraudulent document! Surely, the Conference has a fiduciary responsibility and owes those who truly were persecuted by the Nazis, to be thorough and discriminating in its validation of veracity. It did not fulfill that responsibility.

    Please explain to me, how it is you have been aware of the doubts and inaccuracies of Mr. Kurzem's story since 2009, yet have done nothing about rescinding his reparations?

    How does the Claims Conference accept, tolerate, and apparently condone, that in 1972, Kurzem provided an affidavit endorsing the good character of Nazi SS Colonel Karlis Lobe?

    Please help me understand the inconsistency in the Haaretz article appearing last year, where Greg Schneider was quoted as saying no fraud was found in Kurzem's application.Yet in the same article, Kurzem claims he never said he "was Ilya Galperin" , the person he claimed to be when filling out his application for reparations.

    How does the Conference define persecution? In a 2008 Penthouse article Kurzem is quoted as saying, the Nazis were "my family", “I felt safe; I wasn’t hungry and I was looked after". Please tell me, Rabbi Berman, that cannot possibly qualify as persecution by the Conference's criteria, can it?

    A multi-million dollar fraud was committed on your watch already. Isn't that enough embarrassment to the Jewish community? I don't need to remind you of the higher standard to which we, as Jews are always held, and that the Conference cannot afford its integrity to be doubted or compromised.

    Six million are owed so much more. Isn't it time, Rabbi Berman the Claims Conference came clean on Kurzem?

    (The Testimonies Director at the Centre, Mr Phillip Maisel, who recorded Kurzem’s story formed the impression that his interviewee was not being entirely truthful: “There was something strange about his story, something didn’t add up.” Researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, concerned with preserving an accurate history of the Jewish Holocaust, has written: "Mr. Kurzem not only has and will continue to experience substantial financial gain and recognition from his books and his movie, he also lectures internationally to school children, thereby feeding the next generation with what may be distortions of the truth.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The shenanigans going on with the Holocaust Claims Conference and the daily reports in various newspapers are reprehensible. If I were not a child of Holocaust survivors and Jewish I would truly develop anti-Semitic feelings and be jealous with hatred of the Jewish people. Why? Jews have been hated throughout history because non-Jews believe we control the financial world and find every possible method to steal money from others.

    I am 65 years old and was born in a displaced persons camp.. My parents, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, died when I was relatively young. Except for a cousin, their entire families perished in the Holocaust and all their property including land and businesses was taken from them.

    Any elderly Holocaust survivor who is in need of food, medicine or financial assistance which Germany just made available should receive the additional funding through the Holocaust Claims Conference.

    Due to the mishandling and theft involved with the Holocaust Claims Conference the world is regarding the entire Jewish population as thieves. Is this the legacy we want after many of us lost most of our families to the Nazis?

    While I realize Holocaust survivors will say that the money given by Germany belongs to them, I can suggest other venues where this money would help the children, grandchildren and future generations of those who suffered in the Holocaust. There certainly are many Holocaust survivors who financially did well after the war. I am sure they would also like to see funding from the Holocaust Claims Conference used for the Jewish education of their children and future generations.

    How many Rabbinical Theological schools offer courses in Holocaust history or education? This is the way to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and those who died. Day schools are in desperate need of financial assistance and synagogues are having financial problems. Many young Jewish families, especially religious families, are struggling to keep kosher, send their children to Yeshivas, support synagogues and purchase homes in religious neighborhoods.

    Are we going to allow the same leadership of the Holocaust Claims Conference to misappropriate and mismanage funds to the point where more than $50 million was stolen?

    It is time for new leadership. Unless others join me in speaking out, 10 years from now we will be reading about more theft and misuse of funds while most of the Holocaust will have died.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    EDISON

  3. Anonymous says:

    An anonymous letter sent to the Claims Conference’s Frankfurt office in 2001 identified five cases where restitution was approved for ineligible claimants. I have the guts to say they are a much of thieves. I am a child of Holocaust survivors. For years I have yelled and screamed that there has been hanky panky going on while Holocaust survivors were denied their due. How stupid are we not to protest? A lot of people belong in jail. Holocaust survivors are going without food and medicine while the thieves play with their funds. If you agree with me , speak out. I call on all Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren to demand retribution now. I am not afraid to speak out. The claims conference in my opinion is corrupt or at least inept. Soon the holocaust survivors will all be dead. How much more money will be stolen. The more voices the public – especially survivors and their children – who raise their voices now demanding resignations, the more likely we can achieve our objectives to reform the organization and seek immediate diversion of the funds for the benefit of the dwindling numbers of ailing survivors.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    You speak for our Kedoshim, the martyrs who are no longer with us, as well for the few who are still alive.

    Your words should strike a chord in all our hearts because they come from the heart!

    I distinctly remember the 2001 outrage at the 'Claims Conference' in NY. There was much handwringing and finger pointing. Apparently there was insider involvement – mostly Russians who were administering the disbursement of funds. They created false identities for people, many of whom were born AFTER WWII. These people were paid off and turned the funds over to the crooks. At the time Eva and I wrote letters to the administration, etc. No one even bothered to respond and I do not know if any funds were recovered, or the perpetrators punished The German government left it to the locals here to police themselves… This was sent to me by Holocaust survivors. Both my parents have been long dead and holocaust survivors are dying everyday. I BEG OF YOU. GET THIS MESSAGE OUT TO THE SURVIVORS, THEIR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  4. Anonymous says:

    My major suggestion which will get Rabbis, the Jewish community, Second Generation and Holocaust survivors involved is: those Holocaust survivors in need of food, medication, etc will be first priority. There are obviously some Holocaust survivors who are comfortable. The added funds from the Claims would be beneficial to their children and grandchildren for education, day schools , yeshivas, college tuition, programs on college campuses and Holocaust teaching programs on the university level with scholarships for these families.. This might awaken those who are uninterested because at this point they see no personal benefit. I don't know the legalities of this but I do know that children, grand children and great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, especially if they are religious , are in need of these funds. There should be a way to include those families where the Holocaust survivors have perished, but their children and grandchildren could benefit greatly from the funds. These funds could also be used for other purposes for these 2G, 3G, and 4G families. Unfortunately the courts decided that survivors and their children and grandchildren should not have the same rights as every other American to sue insurers who cheat them out of their policy proceeds. That is the decision that an attorney has been trying to overturn via Federal legislation over the past 6 years, unsuccessfully of course. We should all fight to undo this injustice.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  5. Anonymous says:

    SAMUEL DUBBIN IS A MAN OF GREAT INTEGRITY. HE IS FIGHTING FOR THE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. HE IS HONEST AND HAS ONLY PURE MOTIVES. HE SHOULD BE PRAISED. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  6. Anonymous says:

    RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG Holocaust Claims Conference Just Waiting for Survivors to Die To Spend Their Money.

  7. You ask, "..why are some focusing exclusively on accusations of mismanagement.. Because it's wrong and it doesn't matter if the Conference took over the German government's treasury – wrong is wrong and this time the Conference isn't going to buy it's way out of what the embarrassment the leadership has created. Call it "gotcha" journalism or whatever you want, but it's finally time that the public be made aware of what has been transpiring for years at the Conference. I personally thank those "gotcha" reporters for exposing the mismanagement and incestuous relationships at the Conference.

  8. Anonymous says:

    rosenberg. FIRST AND ONLY PRIORITY ARE THE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS and no one else.

    The shenanigans going on with the Holocaust Claims Conference and the daily reports in various newspapers is reprehensible. If I were not a child of Holocaust survivors and Jewish I would truly develop anti Semitic feelings and be jealous with hatred of the Jewish people. Why? Jews have been hated throughout history because non Jews believe we control the financial world and find every possible method to steal money from others.. I am sixty five years old and was born in a DP camp.. My parents, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald died when I was relatively young. Except for a cousin, their entire families perished in the Holocaust and all their property including land and businesses was taken from them. Any elderly Holocaust survivor who is in need of food, medicine or financial assistance which Germany just made available should receive the additional funding through the Holocaust Claims Conference.

    Due to the mishandling and theft involved with the Holocaust Claims Conference the world is regarding the entire Jewish population as thieves. Is this the legacy we want after many of us lost most of our families to the Nazis?

    While I realize Holocaust survivors will say that the money given by Germany belongs to them, I can suggest other venues where this money would help the children, grandchildren and future generations of those who suffered in the Holocaust. There certainly are many Holocaust survivors who financially did well after the war. I am sure they would also like to see funding from the Holocaust Claims conference used for the Jewish education of their children and future generations. How many Rabbinical Theological schools offer courses in Holocaust history or education? This is the way to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and those who died. Day schools are in desperate need of financial assistance and synagogues are having financial problems. Many young Jewish families, especially Religious families are struggling to keep kosher, send their children to Yeshivas, support synagogues and purchase homes in religious neighborhoods.

    Are we going to allow the same leadership of the Holocaust Claims Conference to misappropriate and mismanage funds to the point where over fifty million dollars was stolen? It is time for new leadership. Unless others join me in speaking out, ten years from now we will be reading about more theft and misuse of funds while most of the Holocaust will have died.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

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