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September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Claims Conference’

The Third Oldest Profession

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

The Jewish world was rocked last week by still another scandal, one so twisted and nefarious that it simply defies belief.
 
In a news conference held last Tuesday, United States Attorney Preet Bharara announced that 17 people were being charged with taking part in a massive scam that defrauded some $42.5 million from the Claims Conference, an organization that assists elderly and poor Holocaust survivors.
 
The swindle, which allegedly began back in 1994, is said to have involved current and former Claims Conference employees who participated in the preparation, submission and approval of thousands upon thousands of falsified claims.
 
According to the charge sheet filed in federal court, there were cases in which the dates of birth of applicants were doctored in order to make it appear as if they had been born during or prior to World War II, thereby enabling them to falsely claim they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
 
In other instances, evidence of victimization by Hitler’s henchmen was simply made up to justify demands for restitution.
 
On some applications, bogus claims were made that the applicant had spent at least six months in a concentration camp, or 18 months confined in a ghetto.
 
What kind of human being would do such a thing?
 
As Bharara told reporters, “If ever there was a cause that you would hope and expect would be immune from base greed and criminal fraud, it would be the Claims Conference, which every day assists thousands of poor and elderly victims of Nazi persecution.”
 
“Sadly,” he added, “those victims were themselves victimized.”
 
To their credit, it was Claims Conference officials who first contacted law enforcement authorities after they uncovered irregularities in submissions that were made by various claimants.
 
And the only reason the fraudsters succeeded for so long – over some 16 years! – is because the conspiracy itself involved Claims Conference staffers who were in on it in exchange for a percentage of the payouts.
 
Nonetheless, it is difficult to digest what some scoundrels are capable of doing.
 
And it is simply unconscionable to think that Jews would do such a thing: to dishonor the real victims of the Holocaust just in order to steal a few bucks.
 
The Chillul Hashem – desecration of God’s name – this episode entails is even larger than the fraud itself. And the story itself reinforces many of the negative and anti-Semitic stereotypes that are already dangerously widespread.
 
One talkback to a news story about the bust on the New York Post website had this to say: “Behavior like this is why the Nazis whacked the Jews in the first place.”
 
The fact is that when Jews cheat, steal and swindle, it has ramifications far beyond the individual. Rightly or wrongly, it reflects on our community as a whole.
 
Moreover, this despicable act of theft could potentially have far-reaching consequences on efforts to win additional compensation in the future for Holocaust victims.
 
Since its founding shortly after the end of World War II, the Claims Conference has processed over 600,000 individual claims, disbursing more than $4.3 billion. The bulk of those funds came from the German government, and the Claims Conference continues to negotiate with Berlin regarding the enlargement and  perpetuation of the program.
 
A scandal of this sort is unlikely to inspire the Germans to continue to pay into a system that was beset by theft and bereft of proper safeguards and controls. It has tarnished the just cause of providing aid to needy survivors, and left a stain that will not be easy to remove.
 
Sadly, this outrage is just one of many in recent years which have plagued the Jewish community, from Madoff to Agriprocessors.
 
The common thread running through all these incidents is, of course, greed and theft.
 
We all know what the oldest profession is, and it is said that politics comes in a close second. But I think a good case can be made that stealing is right up there near the top of the list as well, perhaps coming in third.
 
This epidemic of dishonesty needs to be nipped in the bud. We must stop burying our heads in the sand and ignoring these developments.
 
Lying and cheating are antithetical to Judaism and it is time for educators, religious leaders and community heads to do more to get this message across.
 
            There is something very wrong when a community is hit time and time again by thieves and scam artists emerging from its midst.
 

Let the Claims Conference scandal serve as a warning: our community needs to clean up its act, and fast.

 

 

Michael Freund is founder of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based organization that helps “lost Jews” return to Zion. His Jewish Press-exclusive column appears the third week of each month.

Claims Conference Will Not Be Deterred

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

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.

Claims Conference Faces Questions Over $7 Million Fraud

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

After discovering $7 million in fraudulent payments, the Claims Conference is facing questions about whether it will recover the money and how extensive the fraud actually was.

Officials at the Claims Conference, which acts as a pass-through to distribute more than $400 million per year from Eastern European governments directly to survivors, discovered last year that it had paid out at least $7 million in pension payments dating back as far as 1980 to 202 imposters who used fraudulent documents to file claims for payments.

The Claims Conference notified the recipients earlier this month that their payments were being suspended and that they had 90 days either to return all the money they had received or appeal the suspension. Some 40 people have responded, with about half saying they wanted to return the money and half asking for appeals, according to the Claims Conference.

It is not clear what, if any, criminal charges they will face.

“Criminal activity is not a matter for the Claims Conference,” Gregory Schneider, its executive vice president, told JTA. “We reserve the right to go after them in civil court for the return of money.”

Claims Conference officials first noticed last November that several claimants had falsified information to receive payments from the Hardship Fund, an account established by the German government to give one-time payments of roughly $3,000 to those who fled the Nazis as they moved east through Germany.

A further internal investigation revealed that more fraudulent claimants received payments from the organization’s Article 2 fund, through which the German government gives pension payments of roughly $375 per month to those who spent either six months minimum in a concentration camp or at least 18 months in a Jewish ghetto, in hiding or living under a false identity to avoid the Nazis.

Conference officials said they immediately notified the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and discussed the matter in meetings with the German government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Claims Conference are continuing to investigate the matter.

“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” Schneider said. “We have worked very closely with law enforcement, and on a regular basis they are in touch with us.”

In total, the Claims Conference has made pension payments to more than 160,000 people in 78 countries on behalf of the Germans since the start of the Hardship Fund in 1980 and the Article 2 fund in 1995. The organization now is reviewing each of the recipients, comparing the information it has from the fraudulent claims, such as where the claims were made, to all other claims, going case by case through all their case histories.

The 202 suspects come from reviewing “thousands” of recipients, according to a Claims Conference official, but it expects to find more as the organization reviews the entire caseload.

Payments are made from Claims Conference’s offices in Frankfurt, Tel Aviv and New York, but thus far all the suspected fraud was processed through the New York office. The discovery led to the firing of two case workers and one supervisor in that office. Schneider would not comment on whether the employees were under criminal investigation.

The fraud was reported in the New York Jewish Week just before the Claims Conference board of directors held their annual meetings in New York two weeks ago.

At the meetings, the board approved a $500,000 reserve fund “as a contingency to cover potential expenses associated with investigating the fraud and recovering the funds,” according to a spokesperson for the Claims Conference.

The board also has spent some money on public relations services from the high-profile firm Howard Rubenstein; Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman described the sum as “minimal.”

The Claims Conference makes several kinds of payments. Most of the money it handles are pass-through payments from the German government to Nazi victims. The organization handled about $418 million in such payouts in 2009, and some $4 billion since 1980 from agreements negotiated between the German government and the Claims Conference acting as the representative of Nazi victims and the Jewish people. This is where the $7 million fraud was discovered.

In addition, the Claims Conference decides on how to distribute money each year from the sale of heirless Jewish property in the former East Germany. That money is distributed using a formula in which 80 percent goes to organizations that aid survivors and 20 percent to programs involved in Holocaust education, documentation and commemoration.

Over the past few years, however, as the Claims Conference upped the payouts from this fund – in 2010, the organization is set to distribute $136 million – the Holocaust education portion was capped at $18 million. The Claims Conference has about $1.16 billion from this fund earmarked for future payments.

The organization also distributes other monies negotiated from European governments for such issues as home care for needy, ailing survivors. The Claims Conference will distribute about $80 million in such funds this year, officials said.

“The Claims Conference has a 59-year history of working with the German government,” Schneider said. “During this time, the Claims Conference has continuously negotiated for the rights of Holocaust victims, establishing compensation funds and obtaining expansions of existing programs.”

He added, “While all understand that money can never truly compensate Holocaust victims for their suffering, the German government has assumed responsibility throughout the decades and acknowledged its obligation to survivors. The Claims Conference believes that the German government will continue to honor this obligation as long as Nazi victims remain alive.”

(JTA)

Claims Conference Faces Questions Over $7 Million Fraud

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010


After discovering $7 million in fraudulent payments, the Claims Conference is facing questions about whether it will recover the money and how extensive the fraud actually was.


Officials at the Claims Conference, which acts as a pass-through to distribute more than $400 million per year from Eastern European governments directly to survivors, discovered last year that it had paid out at least $7 million in pension payments dating back as far as 1980 to 202 imposters who used fraudulent documents to file claims for payments.


The Claims Conference notified the recipients earlier this month that their payments were being suspended and that they had 90 days either to return all the money they had received or appeal the suspension. Some 40 people have responded, with about half saying they wanted to return the money and half asking for appeals, according to the Claims Conference.


It is not clear what, if any, criminal charges they will face.


“Criminal activity is not a matter for the Claims Conference,” Gregory Schneider, its executive vice president, told JTA. “We reserve the right to go after them in civil court for the return of money.”


Claims Conference officials first noticed last November that several claimants had falsified information to receive payments from the Hardship Fund, an account established by the German government to give one-time payments of roughly $3,000 to those who fled the Nazis as they moved east through Germany.


A further internal investigation revealed that more fraudulent claimants received payments from the organization’s Article 2 fund, through which the German government gives pension payments of roughly $375 per month to those who spent either six months minimum in a concentration camp or at least 18 months in a Jewish ghetto, in hiding or living under a false identity to avoid the Nazis.


Conference officials said they immediately notified the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and discussed the matter in meetings with the German government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Claims Conference are continuing to investigate the matter.


“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” Schneider said. “We have worked very closely with law enforcement, and on a regular basis they are in touch with us.”


In total, the Claims Conference has made pension payments to more than 160,000 people in 78 countries on behalf of the Germans since the start of the Hardship Fund in 1980 and the Article 2 fund in 1995. The organization now is reviewing each of the recipients, comparing the information it has from the fraudulent claims, such as where the claims were made, to all other claims, going case by case through all their case histories.


The 202 suspects come from reviewing “thousands” of recipients, according to a Claims Conference official, but it expects to find more as the organization reviews the entire caseload.


Payments are made from Claims Conference’s offices in Frankfurt, Tel Aviv and New York, but thus far all the suspected fraud was processed through the New York office. The discovery led to the firing of two case workers and one supervisor in that office. Schneider would not comment on whether the employees were under criminal investigation.


The fraud was reported in the New York Jewish Week just before the Claims Conference board of directors held their annual meetings in New York two weeks ago.


At the meetings, the board approved a $500,000 reserve fund “as a contingency to cover potential expenses associated with investigating the fraud and recovering the funds,” according to a spokesperson for the Claims Conference.


The board also has spent some money on public relations services from the high-profile firm Howard Rubenstein; Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman described the sum as “minimal.”


The Claims Conference makes several kinds of payments. Most of the money it handles are pass-through payments from the German government to Nazi victims. The organization handled about $418 million in such payouts in 2009, and some $4 billion since 1980 from agreements negotiated between the German government and the Claims Conference acting as the representative of Nazi victims and the Jewish people. This is where the $7 million fraud was discovered.


In addition, the Claims Conference decides on how to distribute money each year from the sale of heirless Jewish property in the former East Germany. That money is distributed using a formula in which 80 percent goes to organizations that aid survivors and 20 percent to programs involved in Holocaust education, documentation and commemoration.


Over the past few years, however, as the Claims Conference upped the payouts from this fund – in 2010, the organization is set to distribute $136 million – the Holocaust education portion was capped at $18 million. The Claims Conference has about $1.16 billion from this fund earmarked for future payments.


The organization also distributes other monies negotiated from European governments for such issues as home care for needy, ailing survivors. The Claims Conference will distribute about $80 million in such funds this year, officials said.


“The Claims Conference has a 59-year history of working with the German government,” Schneider said. “During this time, the Claims Conference has continuously negotiated for the rights of Holocaust victims, establishing compensation funds and obtaining expansions of existing programs.”


He added, “While all understand that money can never truly compensate Holocaust victims for their suffering, the German government has assumed responsibility throughout the decades and acknowledged its obligation to survivors. The Claims Conference believes that the German government will continue to honor this obligation as long as Nazi victims remain alive.”

(JTA)

Letters To The Editor

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Don’t Give Up Golan
   I hope Joseph Farah’s article on the Golan (“Whose Golan Heights?” op-ed, March 30) is widely read. The myth of Arab entitlement to the Golan is akin to the fables underlying Arab claims to the rest of biblical Israel. Farah should expand on what he wrote and The Jewish Press and other Jewish publications should run with it, since the debate over the Golan is fast approaching.
 
   Farah’s comment on Syria’s use of the strategic advantage of the Golan Heights to twice attack Israel should also be publicized. What other country has ever been asked to turn over to a sworn and bitter enemy such a strategic advantage?
 

Henry Kind

New York, NY
 

 

Church And State
 
   A news story in your March 23 issue (“Maryland Senate Rejects Get Law”) reported on the failure of the Maryland legislature to enact a get law you describe as a measure “that essentially would have compelled Jewish husbands granting their wives civil divorces to grant them a Jewish divorce (get) as well”
 
   The story went on to note the “profound disappointment” of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which supported the measure.
 
   Forgive me, but I thought a compelled get (get meusah) was invalid. I also wonder how a government law can force someone to perform a religious ritual.
 

Gloria Miller

(Via E-Mail)

 

Historical Parallel
   In defending Israel’s right to its land and opposing the concept of the two-state solution, we should emphasize the historical parallels between the U.S. in the Civil War era and Israel today.
 
   When the Southern Confederate states decided to secede, the North did not attempt to accommodate the South by agreeing to a two-state solution in the interests of peace, even though the South was never any military/terrorist threat to the North and never sent any suicide bombers or rockets against the North.
 
   The Southern states simply wanted to go peacefully their own way on their own land – their claim to which was certainly as good as that of the Northern states to their land. And there never was any dispute as to what constitutes the borders of the Confederate states.
 
   Yet the North attacked and invaded the South. The North did not compromise or make risky concessions for peace. They demanded total surrender. They invaded the South in an all-out, brutal, terribly destructive war, burning down many Southern cities, blockading and bombarding Southern ports, and completely destroying the South’s manufacturing and production infrastructure.
 
   President Bush and Secretary of State Rice are in effect telling Israel, “Do as we say, not as we – Lincoln and the Union states – did.
 

J.L. Greenberg

Seattle, WA

 

Thumbs Up
   I commend The Jewish Press on its editorial concerning the janitor falsely accused of violating a youngster (“The School Custodian Mistake,” March 30). I think it captured the complexity of an issue that requires prompt action on often incomplete information.
 

Rita Meyerowitz

Ramat Gan, Israel
 

 

Thumbs Down
 
   Once again The Jewish Press comes out on the wrong side of the abuse issue. If we are to err in a particular case involving charges of sexual abuse of children, shouldn’t we err on the side of a child who might have been abused rather than on an adult who might not have done it?
 

Shira Aronowitz

(Via E-Mail)

 


 

 

 

The WJC/Israel Singer Controversy

 

Singer Deserves Better
 
      As someone who has applauded the courageous stand taken by The Jewish Press against jumping to conclusions about the veracity of unproven accusations, I was sorely disappointed with your treatment of the WJC/Israel Singer matter. Mr. Singer has not been convicted of anything, yet you conclude that he is unfit for public service because of mere allegations made against him (“Israel Singer Redux,” editorial, March 30).
 
      Mr. Singer has done much for the Jewish community and he deserves better – certainly from a newspaper that prides itself as a staunch advocate of due process.
 

Samuel Rich

New York, NY
 

 

Red Flag
 
      You chide the Claims Conference for not getting rid of Israel Singer in the aftermath of his having been fired by World Jewish Congress president Edgar Bronfman. Yet in the same editorial you note that Bronfman acted only after Singer refused to support Bronfman’s son as his successor. Doesn’t this raise a red flag about the legitimacy of the charges against Singer?
 

Frieda Morgenstern

(Via E-Mail)

 

‘Arrogant Am-Haaretz
 
      So, Edgar Bronfman is to be believed over Israel Singer?
 
      Israel Singer is an Orthodox Jew, an ordained rabbi, and the man who actually put the World Jewish Congress on the map with his tireless efforts on behalf of Jews here and around in the world in the 1980′s and 90′s. Bronfman, on the other hand, has intermarried on more than one occasion; he’s just a rich man who used his billions to buy into the ranks of “Jewish leadership.”
 
      May I remind you of Bronfman’s own boorish and intrinsically un-Jewish mindset, as revealed in an interview he did with author Abigail Pogrebin and reported by your own senior editor, Jason Maoz, in an article on Pogrebin’s book Stars of David?
 
      “Synagogue bores me to tears. I don’t get any spirituality out of going,” Bronfman told Pogrebin. When she asked him if God gave the Torah to the Jews, he replied, “Please. Don’t try to give me any of that stuff.”
 
      And then, as Mr. Maoz so devastatingly related in his article, Bronfman, an arrogant am-haaretz if ever there was one, placed himself outside the camp of the God of Israel, declaring, “The problem is that in synagogue, we talk about this Avinu Malkeinu business ["Our Father, Our King"] all the time. I don’t do that. I mean, I can sing it, but while I’m singing it, I’m saying, ‘It’s not my father, it’s not my king.’ “
 
      The Wicked Son of the Haggadah couldn’t have said it better. So why should I care or give credence to anything a man like Bronfman says or does?
 

Jake Fruchtenbaum

(Via E-Mail)

 

Singer’s Good Works
      The hundreds of millions of dollars Israel Singer got for Holocaust victims – surely that counts for something, does it not? What about his pioneering work on behalf of Soviet Jewry? Or his aggressive pursuit of justice for Jews anywhere in the world for better than 30 years?
 
      Bronfman is just a dilettante who built on his bootlegger father’s fortune and realized that since money counts for everything in Jewish communal life, he had more than enough to sit at the table with all the other self-proclaimed “Jewish leaders.”
 

Brian Berger

Jerusalem
 

 

Old Boy Network
 
      The Israel Singer debacle made me think about the process by which people become leaders in the Jewish community. Edgar Bronfman’s big bucks enable him to take over the World Jewish Congress, and Israel Singer becomes a leader in that organization because his then-friend Edgar Bronfman makes him one.
 
      What you or I or any other Jew thought meant nothing at the time. Nor does it matter now. Jewish leadership is nothing but an old boys network. The fact that Bronfman and Singer had a falling out probably won’t affect Singer’s status at the Claims Conference – unless he gets into a personal tiff with one of the Big Boys over there.
 
      That the Claims Conference saw fit not to cut Singer loose when the attorney general’s findings raised serious questions about Singer speaks volumes about that group’s priorities. Singer must be on good personal terms with the powers that be at the Claims Conference – just as he was on good terms for so long with Bronfman, who also did not dismiss him at the time of the attorney general’s report.
 
      Personal relationships, power networking, wealth and titles – these are what make the world of Jewish leadership go ’round and ’round. Thus it has always been and thus it shall forever be.
 

Daniel Steinberg

(Via E-Mail)

Swidin Jewish Cemetery Vandalized Again

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Swidin Jewish Cemetery Vandalized Again


 


      Half of the 20 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Swidin were broken March 1, according to Albert Stankowski of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Warsaw. “This was done during the same time as the Claims Conference was visiting in Poland, and I have no doubt that the act against the cemetery was related,” he said.

Stankowksi was referring to a Claims Conference meeting last week with the government about compensation for Jewish property stolen by the Nazis and Communists.

 

      “The articles in the press gave readers the feeling that the Jews were coming to take their property away, and an Evangelical priest in the town thinks the people who did this to the cemetery were reacting to that,” he said.

 

      It was the third time in five years that the cemetery was attacked. Last year, when three tombstones were damaged, Stankowski asked the regional prosecutor to investigate. “The prosecutor told us it was the wind that caused the problem. So I brought it to a higher prosecutor and the case was still under investigation when this destruction happened,” he said. “But I can tell you that the police have shown no interest in really investigating the case.”

 

 


            “Do Not Be Afraid To Know Me”


 


      An exhibition recapitulating an international project, “Do not be afraid to know me” is presented in the Opole town hall. The project was completed by the Opole OHP (Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy) Association in June 2006, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. The main goal of the project was to search for traces of Jewish culture in the Opolskie province. In the exhibition, there are photos of the surviving cemeteries and synagogues of the province, taken by participants of the project from Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Germany.

 

      Relics of Jewish Culture in Opolskie Province, a folder produced with the cooperation of the Foundation, is another article on exhibit. The publication will soon be sent to libraries and museums of the Opolskie province. It can also be obtained from the International Committee of the Opole OHP Association. The European Union Youth Program, Action 1 – Youth for Europe financed the project.

 

Siemiatycze

 

      We are pleased to inform you that the building of the pre-war Jewish religious school in Siemiatycze is regaining its previous splendor while serving the local community. The building was leased by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland to a local association supporting education and labor market development (Stowarzyszenie Wspierania Edukacji i Rynku Pracy). The association has already renovated the front elevation and parts of the interior of the building, where, in September 2006, a trade school opened.

 

 


Gdansk

 

      The Gdansk branch of the Union of Jewish Communities, together with the Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries (with whom the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland completed a project to renovate the cemetery in Dubienka, Lubelskie province), is finishing the fence around the Jewish cemetery in Gdansk.

 

 


Losice

 

      We are glad to announce the latest update to the website devoted to the Losice Jewish cemetery: www.zchor.org/losice/losice.htm – “We Remember Jewish Losice.” It is the testimony of Eddie Weinstein, and is one chapter taken from his book, Quenched Steel, The Story of an Escape from Treblinka (Yad Vashem, 2002). Also included is a tribute by Weinstein to colleagues and family members without whom, he acknowledges, he may not have survived.


 


Brzeziny

 

      The monument commemorating the Jews of Brzeziny (Lodzkie province) was vandalized. A racist graffito defaced the plaque devoted to the Holocaust’s victims. The Jewish cemetery in Brzeziny (Reymont Street) was probably established in the 16th century, and had been used until the Holocaust. It was devastated during World War II and the savagery continued even after the war, when a sand mine was located at the area of the burial grounds.

 

      Witnesses claim the sand, mixed with human bones, was used to produce material to build prefabricated apartment houses. Many tombstones were stolen and used for construction works, e.g. paving banks of fishing ponds. In 1992, at the initiative of the descendants of Brzeziny’s Jews, the area of the cemetery was fenced. Sara Zyskind described the story of the townsfolk of Brzeziny shtetl in her book, Light in the Valley of Tears. Information gathered from http://www.kirkuty.xip.pl/brzeziny.htm.

Private Restitution Proposal Possible

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

The issue of restitution for private property owned by Jews in Poland has long been a sore spot for many Jews of Polish origin. Before the Shoah, there were 3.5 million Jews living in Poland. While many were very poor, a large number owned property, ranging from small plots of land to major estates. During World War II, the Germans confiscated all the property belonging to Jews. After the war, when some Jews returned, they were often attacked – as in the Kielce pogrom of July 4, 1946, which compelled many Jews to leave the country. During the Communist era, much of the remaining property was confiscated by the state or claimed by the non-Jews now living in an almost Jew-free society.


Last week a draft resolution was announced that for the first time, would allow for financial compensation to claimants and the heirs of people of Polish origin who are not Polish citizens.


Over the years, every time I met a Polish official, I would ask, “What about restitution?” I was often told that the issue was complicated since “so many people lost so much during the war.”


The claim was that if Poland, a poor country, were be forced to give compensation to foreigners for abandoned property, the country would be broke because the bill would amount to billions of dollars.


Over the years, there have been many ideas thrown about on how to resolve the issue – ranging from handing over the deeds to the property to maintaining the status quo. The latest proposal is for compensation for between 15-20 percent of the value of the property.


This proposal has been criticized for being too little, and some are even calling it an insult. “Twenty percent of the value of my home,” one survivor said, “is not even worth the interest I would have gotten on the worth of the property if I had gotten the money on time and put it into the bank. It is an insult.”


The proposed compensation bill, which will apply within the current boundaries of Poland, is expected to cost the country some $10 billion.


“It is outrageous that the Polish government is inheriting 80 percent of the value of the homes of the few thousand Jews who survived,” said Yehuda Evron, president of the Holocaust Restitution Committee, which represents 3,000 potential heirs in the United States, Israel, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.


It is important to note that the Jewish claims for property restitution are expected to amount to only about 20 percent of the total claims, as many non-Jewish Poles also have claims against the government.


There are problems with any restitution bill. Proving that a property belonged to a claimant can be a major obstacle for people outside Poland. Many records were destroyed, and even those that still exist are buried in Polish archives.


There is a question of who should pay for searches of such archives- – claimants or the government. Who should perform the searches and should there be a time limit on claims? In the coming months, there will be a series of meetings between the Polish government and various Jewish organizations, including the Claims Conference, to try to clarify many of these issues.


Another issue of major concern is the property for which there are no heirs to file a claim. In many cases whole families were murdered and there is nobody to lay claim to their property. Many Jewish organizations representing Jews from all over the world would like any money realized from heirless property claims to be used to fund the preservation of Jewish heritage.


The Polish secretary of state, Ryszard Schnepf, whose father was a leader of the Polish Jewish community during the Communist regime, is the leading proponent of the new compensation bill. Due to a major disagreement with the government over Poland joining a Russian-German oil pipeline, he has resigned, leading many to fear that the compensation bill will be delayed again. A meeting between Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz and leaders of the Claims Conference was canceled last week.


The current compensation bill is not the first to be brought to the Polish government. Six years ago, President Aleksander Kwasniewski rejected legislation offering full compensation to those who were Polish citizens before 1999.


A compensation law regarding community property enabled many Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and school buildings to be returned to the Jewish community in Poland. There have been several ongoing preservation projects that would not have been possible without the passing of the communal property restitution law.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/private-restitution-proposal-possible/2006/05/31/

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