Claims Conference at Crossroads as Fiery Meeting Looms for Holocaust Group

Critics Want Answers on Botched $57M Fraud Probe

getty images

By Paul Berger

Published July 07, 2013, issue of July 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

A Jew who was a fetus at the time his or her mother fled is also eligible, as are the legal heirs of a survivor, if the survivor applied to the fund before they died.

“Even now I am reading some of the websites in Russian, and there is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding,” Rubinstein said. “Some people believe that because their parents fled, children are eligible to apply.”

The Claims Conference has implemented many new safeguards since it discovered the fraud. Claims Conference spokeswoman Kessler-Godin said that each Hardship Fund application was being scrutinized rigorously.

Since the program was launched in November 2012, the Claims Conference has received 58,000 applications, Kessler-Godin said. “Each of these applications is being translated, data entered, matched to pre-existing compensation applications, checked for identity, verified that the person was persecuted as a [Jew] and researched at historical archives such as Yad Vashem to document persecution,” Kessler-Godin said.

The Claims Conference estimates that about 20,000 victims of the Nazis will receive payments in 2013, totaling about $67 million.

But some question the group’s expertise in identifying survivors. When the Claims Conference announced last year that it was expanding the Hardship Fund into the Former Soviet Union, the group estimated that about 80,000 survivors might be eligible for the new payment.

Sergio Della Pergola, an Israeli expert on Holocaust survivor demographics, said he doubted that there were 80,000 Holocaust survivors who met the Hardship Fund criteria in the Former Soviet Union. “The only way to make those data credible is that anyone who lived in the Soviet Union [during the war] is eligible, which is a very, very broad criterion,” Della Pergola said.

Kessler-Godin said the Claims Conference based its estimate on the “80,372 Nazi victims who receive Claims Conference-funded services through a network of Hesed, [social service] agencies throughout the FSU.”

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee runs the Hesed agencies. But a spokesman for the JDC said that it served just 71,124 Holocaust victims in 2012.

Asked to explain the disparity, Kessler-Godin said the Claims Conference had sent outreach letters about the fund to “any [FSU] Jewish Nazi victim who has received any service over the past several years and is not already receiving a pension.” Some, she suggested, later moved into situations in which they no longer required the social service. Nevertheless, Kessler-Godin said, such people are “still potentially eligible for the Hardship Fund,”.

These and other questions may be raised during the showdown ahead. But if they are, they will be discussed out of earshot of members of the press and public. Berman has denied requests from the Forward and The New York Jewish Week to attend and report on the meeting.

Berman said in a statement: “It is the long-standing policy of the Claims Conference that its meetings of the Board of Directors are not open to the public. As in the past, meetings of the Claims Conference Board of Directors are closed to the public in order that members of the board may feel free to speak openly.”

Nathan Guttman contributed reporting.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.