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A Call to Action: Shut Down the Claims Conference

After helping themselves to large salaries and allowing fraud to persist under their noses for over a decade, the Claims Conference is too broke to serve the survivors.

For more than a decade, there have been passionate pleas for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the organization responsible since its inception for the distribution of over $70 billion of restitution payments, to review its management.

For more than a decade, there have been passionate pleas for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the organization responsible since its inception for the distribution of over $70 billion of restitution payments, to review its management.
Photo Credit: wordfromjerusalem.com

By Naomi Vilko, MD

Many Jewish Americans are unaware not only of the sordid behavior of the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany); they are also unaware of its existence and mission. Established in 1951, the Claims Conference has the tasks of negotiating for compensation and restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and of distributing payments from the German government to individual Jewish Holocaust survivors and the social services agencies that serve them.

Shamefully, $57.3 million intended for survivors was stolen from the Claims Conference by 31 people – 11 of them employees – over 16 years. [For more information, please read Isi Leibler’s numerous articles covering the Claims Conference scandal on his blog.] Now, influential Jews including Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel have insisted upon an independent investigation into the Claims Conference fraud as well as a change in its leadership and governance. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark Golub of Shalom TV, Isi Leibler of The Jerusalem Post and staff writers from The Jewish Daily Forward and The Jewish Week who have been following the Claims Conference scandal and pressing for justice for the survivors. I hope that we can mobilize the Jewish community to quickly close this corrupt agency and transfer the funds to another agency who will distribute them in time to help those in need.

Many Holocaust survivors have not received compensation for their suffering and losses because for some of these aging victims, the process is simply too painful; others have not received compensation because the Claims Conference is at best, difficult and obstructionist, and at worst, corrupt. Claims Conference officials have also continued to expand the definition of “Jewish victim of Nazi persecution”. Today, it administers programs providing funds not just to those who survived ghettos, concentration camps, forced labor battalions and death marches, but to anyone who fled Nazi invasion, lived in hiding, or lived under curfew. As a Psychiatrist specializing in trauma, I am well aware that it is difficult to tease out the quantitative and qualitative differences between different traumatic experiences – but I am certain that those who survived concentration camps (the youngest of whom are in their 80s) should receive assistance immediately and without the frustration of dealing with the uncaring staff of the Claims Conference and its various agencies.

My mother and I have dealt with the issue of reparations since my father, a survivor of 5 concentration camps, death marches, Hungarian forced labor and a ghetto, died suddenly in 1962. My father was denied any compensation. As his widow and a survivor herself, my mother appealed, but the appeals were denied. Recently, I again contacted several Jewish agencies in a futile attempt to assist my now 92-year-old mother with paying for her home-care. I was astounded to learn that if she only needed assistance 20 hours/week, she would receive funds, but since she requires 24-hour assistance (which she pays for herself) she will receive nothing to defray the expense. We were advised that she could go on Medicaid and/or be sent to a nursing home.

Jewish social agencies are doing the best they can to help survivors, but they say that they have limited funds. After helping themselves to large salaries and allowing fraud to persist under their noses for over a decade, is it any surprise that the Claims Conference does not have enough funds for the survivors it “claims” to serve? Furthermore, while it is commendable in theory for the Claims Conference to work to expand eligibility for these funds, I must ask: if there is not enough money available to help the survivors who have already been identified, what is the result of such efforts beyond making the bread lines longer?

It is an outrage and an embarrassment that the Claims Conference has continued to operate without oversight, even after failing in its responsibility to adequately investigate and prosecute the fraud for so many years. We must shut down the Claims Conference and transfer the funds to an existing agency, such as the Jewish Federation or the World Jewish Congress that can quickly prioritize the way funds are distributed to survivors. We have an obligation to take care of those who have been tortured and enslaved because they are Jewish – before it’s too late.

There are many survivors who have no children to care for or advocate for them and who live isolated lives in apartments with no services and little human contact. My hope is that raising awareness of the additional psychological trauma survivors experience as a result of the reparations and compensation processes and, specifically, the New York based Claims Conference itself, may lead the Jewish people to take action. Let’s face it: The Jewish people have not adequately taken care of the survivors, who are now extremely elderly and dying. They are entitled to live the last years of their lives with dignity.

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16 Responses to “A Call to Action: Shut Down the Claims Conference”

  1. An embarrassment to world Jewry.

    When I first became aware of the fraud and subsequent cover-up at the Jewish Claims Conference I couldn’t believe it was possible, but now I understand. Chairman Julius Berman has kept the majority of his board members in the dark and the ones that do know how he has operated are just happy to serve. They enjoy the perks and will not rock the boat.

    It’s every Jew’s responsibility to go on record and take a stand against the desperate actions of Mr. Berman. The board members who sit back and condone this behavior are just as guilty. I commend Jerusalem-based columnist Isi Leibler and Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Edison, N.J., for having the guts to step up and expose Mr. Berman’s desperation to hang on to his powerful and influential position. Rabbi Rosenberg has been an advocate for Holocaust survivors for many years and to my knowledge is the only rabbi to publicly criticize the Conference. Mr. Leibler has refused to back down despite threats of legal action.

    Any person with a conscience must stand behind Rabbi Rosenberg and Mr. Leibler in fighting for the elderly Jewish survivors. In a few years these witnesses to man’s inhumanity to man will be gone. Therefore it’s every Jew’s responsibility to see that they are treated with dignity in their twilight years. I urge you to let the Claims Conference leadership know that their actions are an embarrassment to world Jewry.

    Barry P. Resnick

    Orange, Calif.

  2. The Claims Conference will only respond to the authorities. No amount of letters, e-mails or inquiring members of the press will get them to react. Those who are critical of the Conference are using the wrong tactic. The only way to unite everyone is through a criminal prosecution which would obviously remove Messrs. Berman and Schneider from the management.

    We know the majority of the Conference Board supports Berman and Schneider and the recent FBI investigation was not concerned with the management of the Conference. Therefore, the New York Attorney General must get involved and pursue an action against the Conference leadership for their failure to handle the fiduciary responsibilities expected from the leadership of a 501c organization. The Holocaust community can scream bloody murder about the injustices, but nothing will happen unless the authorities intervene. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  3. I KNOW FOR A FACT THROUGH MY CONTACTS THAT THE NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL OFFICE IS WORKING ON IT. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  4. Mr. Berman has failed to handle the fiduciary responsibilities as the manager of a 501c organization in the state of NY. This failure could result in criminal prosecution by the AG. If we are lucky to see that day, at that time we can begin to advocate for fairness in the distribution of funds.

  5. Mr. Berman has failed to handle the fiduciary responsibilities as the manager of a 501c organization in the state of NY. This failure could result in criminal prosecution by the AG. If we are lucky to see that day, at that time we can begin to advocate for fairness in the distribution of funds.

  6. What can we do to facilitate what Dr.Vilko advocates, the closing down of the CC and transferring the funds meant for survivors of the Holocaust to an honest and efficient agency?

  7. This matter should be taken over by the World Jewish Congress. It should be charged with achieving this even if it means legal action. The leadership of the Claims Conference has reached it's sell by date and should already have acted with decency – a word apparently not in its dictionary. I cannot think of another Organisation to be charged with this responsibility and would not like to see this handed over to the Israeli Government as they should have seen to it that Survivors were adequately cared for. Enough words – time for action. Every second, the endangered Survivors "Species" gets another second older.

  8. Yechiel Baum says:

    When my mom applied, the Russian clerk said impossible for her to be a survivor yet she gave money to Russians who were not even alive during the war. Every application rejected by the Russian clerks should be reviewed. All Russian claims should be reviewed by Amercian Jews.

  9. Carl Minuskin
    Dear Naomi Vilko, MD and Friends of HolocaustnSurvivors,

  10. Dear Naomi Vilko, MD & Friends of Jewish Holocaust Survivors,

    Thank you for that informative article.
    I totally agree-for the benefit of Holocaust Survivors & the Jewish Community please shut down the CC.
    J. Berman, G. Schneider & others at the CC say, write, spin, negotiate whatever suits their purpose-regardless of how it affects Holocaust Survivors & the Jewish Community.
    The constant and over riding fact remains the same. Secrecy, exploitation and subjugation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors is the speciality of the CC.
    Now with the election of Emperor Caesar Berman, the ultimate anti-mensch & PASKUDNIAK Holocaust Survivors & the Jewish Community will continue to see dark days.
    The following reforms need to be instituted when dealing with Survivors. All Holocaust Survivors should be treated equally. Income requirements for reparations, restitution, home care, etc. need to be eliminated. Direct funding especially for in home care needs to instituted. All negotiating with the Germans needs to be lead by Holocaust Survivors.
    Zay Gezunt
    Carl Minuskin

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dear Friends,

    For those of you who have dealt with the Claims Conference, it doesn't matter what your issue has been as the responses are all too familiar. We have all been witness to the Conference's lack of ethics and morality and their enormous display of arrogance.

    The Claims Conference was established to represent victims. Unfortunately today its primary mission is to ensure that Julius Berman.
    retains ultimate power and his loyal subordinates like Greg Schneider enjoy exceptional salaries and perks.

    The Conference leadership perceives itself as operating with immunity even going so far as to believe the recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and eventual prosecution of 31 individuals cleared them of any wrong doing. Of course they fail to ever mention the DOJ does not have jurisdiction over those with fiduciary responsibilities of 501c organizations. That's the role of the state attorney general.

    It's time all of us who have witnessed the despicable actions of the Conference leadership get together and urge New York's Attorney General to.
    investigate and hopefully prosecute those who have operated this important organization as their personal fiefdom Until the likes of Berman and.
    Schneider are removed from their positions, we all will continue to be the victims of unchecked power and greed by these self-serving individuals.

    Sincerely,

    Rabbi DR. Bernhard Rosenberg

    Edison, NJ

  12. Anonymous says:

    THIS ANGERS ME….a decision by the Claims Conference to grant the Forward $22,500 to produce a collection of filmed interviews with ten postwar Yiddish writers…

    This is what really angers me. THE CLAIMS CONFERENCE doles out the money like it's his own. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thought for the Day by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    With so many Holocaust survivors struggling from day to day, one has to wonder why there isn't enough funding from the Jewish Claims Conference to help them?

    The Board and leadership of the Conference obviously have other priorities. Among them include funding for:

    •A National School Curriculum for the South African Holocaust Centre.
    •A Fellowship in Advanced Shoah Studies for those seeking doctoral degrees in Shoah Studies.
    •Travel programs to take students to Holocaust related sites.

    And let's not forget the $22,500 to produce a collection of filmed interviews with ten postwar Yiddish writers.

    Shame on Conference Chairman, Julius Berman, Executive Vice President, Greg Schneider.

  14. Anonymous says:

    FROM RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG WRITE THE BOARD MEMBERS:Abraham Biderman, Pinkas Kornfeld, Ady Steg, Joseph Toledano, Sam Bloch, Max Liebmann, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Marc Stern, Alan Pines,

    Jack Rosen, Alan H. Gill, Asher Ostrin, William Hess, Rev. Salomon L. Vaz Dias, Michael Hilsenrath, Clemens Nathan,

    Allan J. Jacobs, Daniel S. Mariaschin, Paul Edlin, Ben Helfgott, Keith Landy, Sidney Zoltak, Colette Avital, Abraham Rosental,

    Roger Cukierman, Serge Klarsfeld, Reuven Merhav, Raymond VJ Schrag, Victor Mauro Garelik, Julio Schlosser, Mikhail Chlenov,

    Semen Gologorskiy, Marguerite Zauberman, Rabbi Yaacov Bleich, Robert Goot, Danny Lamm, Avraham Duvdevani,

    Natan Sharansky, Arieh Lebowitz, Mary Kluk, Mervyn Smith, Max Arpels Lezer, Stefanie Seltzer, Ronald S. Lauder,

    Michael Schneider, Michael Blake, Nigel Ross, Donald S. Day, Shai Pinto, Stephan Kramer, Abraham Lehrer, Uri Chanoch,

    Chaim Chesler, Jehuda Evron, Alla Gerber, Yehoshua Gross, Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, Roman Kent, Yona Laks,

    Ayala Procaccia, Baruch Shub, Yaacov Zitser.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Question for the Day.

    by

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    Edison, NJ

    The Jewish Claims Conference negotiates compensation payments from the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors. Do you feel the Claims Conference disperses the negotiated funds appropriately?

    The German government would like your opinion. Please contact Mr. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany's Federal Minister of Finance and let him know your thoughts.

    Republic Square 1.

    11011 Berlin

    Phone: 030-227 26 00 7.

    Fax: 030-227 67 44 7.

    Email: wolfgang.schaeuble bundestag.de.

  16. Naomi Vilko says:

    I hope that everyone will contact Lauder of WJC; Shiranskyof Jewish agency and Jewish Federations to insist that funds be immediately given to survivors of concentration camp who need financial assistance for food, medication or a healthcare aid.

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