New Law and Lawyers to Help Promise Dignity and Justice for Holocaust Survivors and Heirs

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By Susan L. Rosenbluth, The Jewish Voice and Opinion, Englewood, NJ, December 2014

To Rabbi Dr. Wallace Green, few causes are as dear as fighting for the rights of victims of the Holocaust, whether debunking the deniers and validating that, indeed, six million Jews were systematically murdered, or, as in his current endeavor, working to see that all survivors who were pressed into forced labor in ghettos, factories, and labor camps, and their heirs, receive the German pensions to which they are entitled.

“Germany has recently recognized forced labor in ghettos, factories, and labor camps on territory occupied by the Germans or under Nazi influence as meeting the conditions for making pensions payable to Holocaust survivors. In fact, a persecuted person who simply was forced to live in a ghetto may now be eligible for a pension. Children of recently deceased survivors may also be eligible,” said Rabbi Green.

He singled out Beit Ahava VeTorah as the organization best positioned to help survivors and their heirs in the US and Canada exercise their rights and obtain the funds to which they are entitled. A consultant to Ahava VeTorah, Dr. Green said the Brooklyn-based group’s raison d’être is “to provide support to Holocaust survivors wherever it is needed.”

While not a non-profit organization, Beit Ahava VeTorah takes no money upfront for its application fee. The help it is offering Holocaust survivors and their heirs is not based on a class-action suit, but, rather, on a claim to be filed on behalf of the individual survivor.

Compensation History

Compensation from Germany for victims of the Holocaust is not new. In 1945, after Germany surrendered, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, filed a claim in the name of the Jewish people for compensation. The suit alleged that Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust, and left without owners during the Nazi extermination, belonged to the Jewish people he represented. The suit was rejected by the German parliament and courts.

But, in April 1951, at a meeting in France with Israeli representatives, post-war Germany’s first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, recognized that “in our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed and demand compensation and restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the Jews who have been so seriously harmed.”

In September, 1952, two sets of agreements were signed at The Hague. The first, between the new Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and Israel, required the FRG to provide goods and services to the newly born Jewish state. The second, between the FRG and the Claims Conference (representatives of 23 Jewish organizations which had major interests in Jewish refugee problems on a worldwide or national scale), required the FRG to enact laws that would compensate Jewish victims of Nazi persecution directly, called Protocol No. 1, and, in addition, provide funds for the relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, called Protocol No. 2.

Social Security Recognition

In 1975, the Treaty for Social Security Recognition between the FRG and Israel was signed. It serves as the legal basis for the compensation of Holocaust victims under Germany’s General Social Security Law.

In 2002, as an extension of previous compensation laws, Germany passed The Ghetto Workers Compensation Law (ZRBG), which recognizes that Holocaust survivors who were pressed into service as slave laborers in ghettos, factories, and labor camps are entitled to social insurance pensions, above and beyond any other reparations which they may have been receiving.

According to Rabbi Green, who has taught Holocaust courses at Upsala College and, for more than 20 years, has been a member of the Holocaust Commemoration Committee of the Jewish Federation of Northern NJ, ZRBG was not fully implemented until 2011. Today, almost four years later, there are still many Holocaust survivors and their heirs who have not even applied to claim their rightful compensation.

A Mitzvah

According to Rabbi Green, eligibility is one thing, actually receiving is another, which is why he is asking those who believe they may be entitled to funds to contact Beit Ahava VeTorah.

“Beit Ahava VeTorah is staffed by lawyers and volunteers who see offering compensation assistance to Holocaust survivors as a mitzvah. Our experienced legal experts will fight for the full compensation of all Holocaust survivors and their heirs,” he said.

According to Rabbi Asher Vaknin, director of Beit Ahava VeTorah, doing whatever is possible to assist survivors and their loved ones “is our victory.”

“We, the Jewish people, survived and raised families. Holocaust survivors went through hell, and they and their families are owed compensation and care. That is why Beit Ahava VeTorah was established and that is why we will do whatever it takes to provide them with the desired results,” said Rabbi Vaknin.

Joining Forces

To accomplish its goals with respect to the new ZRBG law, Beit Ahava VeTorah, which has worked chiefly in the US and Canada, has joined forced with the Israeli law firm of Eliahu Weber and Company. Since its establishment in 1971, Weber, with legal teams in Tel Aviv and Germany, has similarly focused on the rights of Holocaust survivors.

For decades, the firm has filed thousands of legal cases against the FRG, forcing Germany to acknowledge individual Jews’ rights to receive pensions from Berlin.

Weber was especially helpful in convincing the German government to acknowledge the rights to compensation of Romanian Jews who were sent to Transnistria during World War II. Some Germans had argued that because the Jews were persecuted by the Nazis’ Romanian allies, compensation may not have been warranted.

Banks and Insurance

Since the 1990s, Weber has worked on various legislation and compensation programs, including the efforts to force Swiss banks to agree to a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims who claimed the Swiss financial institutions collaborated with and aided the Nazi regime by retaining and concealing assets of Jewish victims and accepting and laundering illegally obtained Nazi loot and profits of slave labor.

It was successfully argued that Swiss financial institutions knowingly retained and concealed assets of Holocaust victims, and accepted and laundered illegally obtained Nazi loot and profits of slave labor.

Weber was also involved in the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) to resolve disputes over unpaid insurance policies issued before the war by a number of major European insurance companies to Holocaust victims.

Efforts in Israel

In 2000, Weber was among the leading players whose suit against Germany resulted in the Slave Labor Fund.

Throughout this period, members of the Weber firm acted as external consultants to Members of the Israeli Knesset as well as to the government itself, assisting in clarifying legal issues relating to German and Israeli law. As a result of their efforts, more than 30,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel were recognized by Germany as eligible to receive monthly pensions.

In addition, Weber led the largest ever retroactive case against the Israeli Finance Ministry, resulting in an Israeli Supreme Court decision ordering the government to compensate retroactively some 20,000 Holocaust survivors in the Jewish state.

1997 Ruling

The ZRBG compensation law is based on a 1997 German Supreme Court ruling in which Weber argued that Holocaust survivors who served as slave laborers in ghettos were entitled to additional pension funds. Prompted by that success, Weber continued bringing cases to the German Supreme Court.

In 2013, the German Parliament called on the government to submit legislation that would allow all applicants to receive retroactive payment as of July 1997.

“Weber is pleased that the German government has decided to bring the issue of ghetto pensions to an end and recognize all cases as of 1997,” said Rabbi Green.

Complex Laws

However, he cautioned, the complexity of these laws probably makes legal advice for the claimants “essential” and might make a difference in the size of the pension and retroactive payments.

Even Holocaust survivors who have never filed applications for German pensions, but who believe they might meet the requirements, should fill out a pension application form and start the process as soon as possible, said Rabbi Green. The same is true for survivors who have filled out forms and were rejected for one reason or another, or who decided to waive an application.

“The rejection may have been based on a previous interpretation of the law, which means the case can be re-explored, leading to, perhaps, a new decision. If a benefit already has been claimed or paid according to the ordinance of recognition, the claim for a pension under the ZRBG does not conflict with that,” he said.

New Interpretations

He explained that, by law, victims of Nazi persecution are entitled to receive payment for unforced labor in a ghetto, and this claim does not supersede the pension application under ZRBG.

“The changes in the interpretation of the ZRBG law are allowing more survivors to claim compensation. Even those who are already receiving pensions may receive increased payments,” he said.

To apply, survivors must be able to prove that they were forced to live in a ghetto located in a territory that was occupied by the German Reich or under Nazi influence. Incarceration in concentration camps is not covered by the ZRBH, but the period of time can be counted as a substitute after the individual reached the age of 14.

Few Americans

In the case of Holocaust survivors who received old-age pensions and died after 2002, ZRBH allows the heirs to receive retroactive payments from the time the pension should have been paid until the time of the Holocaust survivor’s death.

This may affect many Jews in the US. Because a compensation agreement was never signed between Germany and the US, most Holocaust survivors who are US citizens never received any compensation.

“This is why many Holocaust survivors who are US citizens will now be entitled to receive an increased payment of five percent per year as of their 65th birthdays,” said Rabbi Green.

He urged all those who think they may be eligible to contact Beit Ahava VeTorah at 888-888-2180 or info@beitahavavetorah.com. The website is www.beitahavavetorah.com.

“In collaboration with Eliahu Weber, Beit Ahava VeTorah is confident that American and Canadian survivors and heirs will obtain their well-deserved rights and compensation. Through its work and experience, Beit Ahava VeTorah can help many survivors and their heirs go through this detailed, long, complicated, and important process,” said Rabbi Green.

S.L.R.