Following years of political and legal pressure against the German Social Security Administration (known as the DRV), brought largely by The Marks Law Firm of New Jersey and especially the Reppenhagen Law Offices of Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed an expansion of Germany’s Ghetto pension (ZRBG) program while in Israel in February. The new ZRBG law passed the Bundestag (Parliament) on June 5 and will officially take effect on August 1.

What does this new Ghetto pension law mean for Holocaust Survivors and their family members? Here are 10 things to know:



  1. Survivors who currently receive a German Social Security / Ghetto pension whose start date is afterJuly 1, 1997 (e.g., January 2005) can now have that pension re-assessedback to 1997 (but only upon request). This re-assessment could result in a potentially sizable lump-sum payment for the claimant. If a survivor is unsure when their pension started, they should absolutely seek a re-assessment as a precaution.
  2. Certain survivors might today collect a Ghetto pension whose start date is July 1997 but who later received a pension increase. If that increase went back onlyto 2005 (rather than 1997), then thatfile would also be eligible for reassessment. Again, it is worth seeking a re-assessment as a precaution.
  3. To receive the highest possible amount in any re-assessment, the existing pension must be examined firstto ensure it is at its maximum. This means seeing if it includes, for example, the correct: a) type of Ghetto work; b) Ghetto working times; c) persecution times; d) Kinder times, if applicable; e) interest calculation, if applicable; etc. This also means simultaneously examining one’s German reparations file(s). Should additional benefits be possible, they should be calculated in the claimant’s pension before any re-assessment is finalized.
  4. Related to point 3, above, failure to examine a pension priorto re-assessment likely means leaving large amounts of money on-the-table because the DRV has an unfortunate and well-documented history of substantially underpaying survivors. And, of course, a re-assessment which starts from a lower number than it should means a lower possible lump-sum payout for the survivor.
  5. After a re-assessment is completed, the math of the DRV must be double-checked, both for accuracy as well as to determine whether a survivor should accept the re-assessment (with a possibly significant lump-sum but also possibly reduced ongoing pension) or, instead, continue to receive his or her current pension. This will be a very complicated calculation.
  6. Because every single Ghetto pension is different, any comparisons of the results of a re-assessment should be avoided. This is unlike, for example, the Article 2 pension program via the Claims Conference, where every success brings exactly the same benefits.
  7. Because pension and / or re-assessment examinations can take place only in Germany, one should consider retaining U.S. andGerman attorneys with experience in this field. Social workers and / or pro bonoattorneys – despite their best intentions – simply do not have the needed background and cannot provide the oversightnecessary to fully represent survivors in the Ghetto pension process, where everyfile is different (unlike, say, with Article 2). Already, our analysis of hundreds of Ghetto files has shown that social workers / pro bonocounsel have routinely accepted DRV pension decisions withoutfiling any appeals, frequently winning less for the claimants than warranted. So to put similar faith in the DRV going forward – the sameagency: that a) not only routinely underpays survivors; b) whose misconduct led to the landmark German Supreme Court decision in 2009 liberalizing the originalGhetto pension / ZRBG law of 2002; and c) which refuseduntil now to pay successful Ghetto claims back to 1997 despite the ZRBG law – makes nosense at all.
  8. Someone today getting a Ghetto Widow(-er) pension after a deceased spouse can alsoseek to have that pension re-assessed back to the month in which the person died (if after July 1997), or to July 1997 if the passing was priorto that date. Again, if unsure of when a Widow(-er) pension started, it is advisable to seek a re-assessment as precaution.
  9. Heirs(non-spouses) of survivors who collected Ghetto pensions before their passing can also seek to apply for re-assessments, but only once proper succession is established to the satisfaction of the DRV (usually via a will or, if necessary, an intestacy proceeding). NOTE: a child of survivors who became U.S. citizens after the war has no independent right to anymoney from Germany other than through a late parent who applied for and collected a Ghetto pension, either for themselves or as a Widow(-er).
  10. Living survivors can file a newGhetto pension claim. If successful, it would now be paid back to July 1997. Similarly, a living Widow(-er) of a deceased Ghetto worker can also file a new Widow(-er) pension claim and get paid back to July 1997 (if the spouse died before then); otherwise it would date to the month of passing. With either kind of application (living or Widow), the Ghetto worker’s reparations file(s) in Germany should first be reviewed. NOTE: Survivors from places like Czernowitz (Romania) or Nitra (Slovakia) previously not eligible for Ghetto pensions can now file new applications; or, if previously rejected, can have their cases reopened upon request.


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William R. Marks, a graduate of Harvard College and Georgetown University Law Center, is the founder and principal of The Marks Law Firm, P.C., which has focused solely on Holocaust compensation claims since 1996. Marks and his partners at The Reppenhagen Law Offices in Berlin, Germany, are the premier offices regarding the German Social Security / Ghetto pension (ZRBG) program, representing thousands of Holocaust Survivors worldwide in this ZRBG process.