When 47 countries affirmed a 2009 declaration pledging to address the needs of the world’s poorest Holocaust survivors, it was seen as a solemn commitment that promised concrete measures to come. But four years on, organizers have postponed the first international conference in which the participant countries were to discuss how best to meet their commitment.
The postponement of the two-day conference, which was due to begin June 25 in Brussels, has exacerbated growing disillusionment with the declaration itself. It has also highlighted rising frustration with the European Shoah Legacy Institute, a foundation created to put the declaration’s idealistic words into action.
In emails obtained by the Forward, advisers to ESLI in Israel and in America questioned the validity of the conference and call for a review of ESLI’s performance.
Herbert Block, an ESLI adviser, urged in one such email, sent March 15, that the social welfare conference be postponed so that governments and nongovernmental organizations could have more time to compile meaningful reports.
“While the needs of Nazi victims are immense, and they are aging, we do not need to quickly just have a conference that merely restates that and accomplishes nothing practical and concrete to benefit their condition,” wrote Block, an assistant executive vice president at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Block added that “there should be some parallel discussions about the future plans for and direction of ESLI.”
Another ESLI adviser, Reuven Merhav, wrote on March 17 that just because “a well-meaning ESLI supporter” — the United States — has provided funding for the conference “does not mean we have to spend [it].”
“ESLI’s chief aim was certainly not [to] arrange conferences, in which… countries will compare notes and design desirable goals, without marking practical operational measures and [without] the financial means necessary to accomplish them,” Merhav wrote.
Block declined to speak about ESLI on the record. Merhav told the Forward, “To put it bluntly, the achievements of recent… years were very, very limited.”
While the number of Holocaust survivors living in poverty is unclear, no one contests that they total in the many tens of thousands.
ESLI was founded in January 2010 to act as a clearinghouse for the international vow to restitute Nazi-confiscated property and to care for the neediest survivors.