My parents, both Holocaust survivors, were indignant that the German government dared to presume that it could offer monetary compensation for human lives and suffering, so they applied for no restitution payments.
Over time, my parents’ moral rectitude about dealing with the devil was softened by economic necessity. They came across a display ad in the Aufbau, an Anglo-German newspaper, and hooked up with Julius Weinberg, who advertised his services, on commission, to survivors in similar circumstances. The bachelor lawyer, an Austrian, operated out of a small Washington Heights apartment located in the midst of the expatriate German Jewish refugee community in New York City.
Weinberg and my parents began a long, tedious process of reconstructing dates; documenting where they lived before and during the war, when they were arrested, what camps they had been in, and finding witnesses and proof for their claims. Time became a pressing matter when my father was diagnosed with a fatal illness.
Knowing that he wouldn’t survive the prognosis, he accelerated his efforts to submit his settlement claim. He used a portable Remington typewriter to correspond with Weinberg and the restitution officials in Germany. Everything was in German, with blue carbon paper smudges.
Dad’s desk was piled with letters and notarized forms bearing official seals and formal signatures from the consulate general of the Federal Republic of Germany. Each of his letters was messy with handwritten corrections, evidence of my father’s terrible two-fingered typing and his “dismissal” from German public schools at a young age.
The letters contained enormously complicated, multi-syllabic words like Entschädigungsbehörde and Ordnungsangelegenheiten. For suffering through four years in 13 concentration camps and the killing of his parents, grandparents and brother, he got a $17,000 check in 1971, just months before he died.
My mother had to go to New York for hospital tests conducted by white-coated German doctors in order to prove the merits of her claim. She was awarded a survivor’s pension that unfailingly came at the end of each month. The amounts differed, depending on the monetary exchange rate, but the checks were never late.
Not long ago, my mother passed away. I took it upon myself to notify the Germans to terminate her survivor’s pension. Not knowing whom to contact, I called the German embassy. The switchboard operator offered condolences and said that she would take care of everything, provided that I send a certified death certificate to her attention, which I did.
Within days, she returned the original document, as promised. Since then, there have been no more checks sent to Jenny Jacobs from Landesbank Berlin AG, Auslandsservice BS-Zv 31, Alexanderplatz 2, D-10178, Berlin, Germany.
On the other hand, when I called the Frontier Phone Company to shut off my late mother’s local phone line, I was told that only she was authorized to cancel her services. It took me 24 calls to IDT, the long-distance carrier, to get a refund to which mom was entitled. And my mother’s neighbors still pick up mail from her mailbox, even though I filled out the requisite U.S. Postal Service “Deceased — Please Forward All Mail” forms.
But when it came time to close their file on a Jew with A-1454 tattooed on her left arm, the Generalkonsulat der Bundesrepublik Deutschland got it right with only one call.
Jackie Jacobs is executive director of the Columbus Jewish Foundation in Columbus, Ohio.