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Claims Conference Will Not Be Deterred


The Claims Conference (as reported in last week’s Jewish Press) discovered a fraud perpetrated against the organization. In a sophisticated criminal scheme, falsified and phony documents were submitted to programs that make payments to Jewish victims of Nazism. These programs, funded by the German government, have been targeted by persons seeking to extract payments to which they were not entitled.

Upon discovering the fraud, the Claims Conference immediately contacted U.S. federal law enforcement authorities and, with them, is mounting a vigorous and thorough investigation to determine the scope and source of the fraud.

In short, it was the Claims Conference that discovered the fraud. It was the Claims Conference that brought in law enforcement. And it is the Claims Conference that will see this issue through to resolution.

This fraud is a sophisticated operation of falsifying an array of identity and archival documents, perpetrated by people with a detailed knowledge of Claims Conference application procedures. Employees who processed applications were fired in February. Recently, the Claims Conference unearthed what may be fraudulent documents that were the basis for a total of about $7 million in pension payments to 202 individuals. Upon uncovering this fact, the Claims Conference: (I) suspended payments on these pensions; (II) demanded the return of all funds under this program paid to date; and (III) gave each relevant beneficiary the right to appeal.

The Claims Conference is outraged at the actions of criminals who targeted its programs. In addition to continuing the investigation, the Claims Conference is implementing a number of measures to protect against being victimized in the future. We also want to reassure the community that no survivor payments were affected.

In total, the Claims Conference has paid 106,761 pensions and has distributed more than $4.7 billion under these programs. These payments represent decades of ongoing negotiations with the German government, during which the Claims Conference labored mightily to secure and increase funds for ever more Holocaust victims.

Given that these were hard-fought agreements reached with the German government, the Claims Conference is outraged that criminals would exploit programs intended to assist needy Holocaust victims for their own financial gain.

In the meantime, Claims Conference activities continue at full speed. We have allocated over $215 million this year for homecare, medicine, food programs and other social welfare services for Shoah survivors in 46 countries.

But, as we well know, the needs of Holocaust victims are greater than the resources available. The Claims Conference board of directors has approved a four-year plan to allocate the organization’s funds – approximately $543 million – obtained from the recovery of Jewish property in the former East Germany. Since 1995, the proceeds from these recovered properties have provided vital services to survivors such as homecare, food packages and hot meals, medical care, and winter relief. However, the recovery of property is drawing to a close, with future income from this endeavor diminishing rapidly.

The Claims Conference has an urgent mission to explain the plight of Shoah survivors to the world and bring additional resources to help them. As stated above, existing restitution-related funding for survivor needs will be virtually gone within few years. It is very clear that after the funds are gone, many Holocaust victims will still be with us, older and in more need of care.

Knowing that the needs will outlast the available funds, our focus in recent years in annual negotiations with the German government has been to obtain funds for homecare. Despite all of the obstacles, the Claims Conference has been uniquely successful in increasing the funds available to assist survivors. In 2010, the Claims Conference obtained approximately $77 million from the German government for homecare, nearly double the amount negotiated in 2009.

Further, the Claims Conference, together with the World Jewish Restitution Organization, is working assiduously to convince governments in Poland, Lithuania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to finally fulfill their obligation and restitute Jewish property stolen during the Shoah. Proceeds from heirless properties could provide homecare, warm meals, medical care, and winter relief to elderly Shoah victims.

The Claims Conference, as the largest provider of services to Holocaust survivors worldwide, is painfully aware of the inadequacy of the current funds to meet their needs. Others have joined us in recognizing the needs and the urgency of addressing them. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest Jewish foundations in the world, has just announced a $10 million fund for emergency needs for Shoah survivors in North America.

To their credit, the Weinberg Foundation trustees did the research, studied these issues and concluded that on top of all of the Claims Conference contributions and our four year spend-down plan, additional funds are needed for survivors. They asked the Claims Conference to administer the funds and their visionary leadership in providing supplemental funds should be an example to all.

With such a pressing task confronting us, nothing will deter us from our vital mission. The Claims Conference continues to work provide dignity to survivors in their final years and to advocate for their rights as long as necessary.

Julius Berman is chairman of the Claims Conference.

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