More Than Half of NYC Holocaust Survivors Living in Poverty Despite Reparations

Claims Conference, Set to Meet in New York, Focused on Its Own Future

yardain amron

By Yardain Amron

Published June 26, 2014, issue of July 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ninety-year-old Sonia Anger survived the Nazis by fleeing Romania after the Germans invaded in 1941 and taking refuge in the Ural Mountains. Today, the brown-haired, 5-foot-6-inch widow struggles to survive in New York City on a monthly Social Security check of $1,130, or $14,000 a year.

“I’m sweeping the floor, and have little to eat, and I have no new clothes,” she said.

It’s a different kind of struggle to be sure. Anger receives some help in the form of social services funded by German government reparations. This includes the meal and musical entertainment she was enjoying at a Brooklyn coffee house program sponsored by Selfhelp Community Services while speaking to this Forward reporter. German reparations are a crucial means of support for many survivors in America living below the poverty line.

In the New York region — where at least one-third of all Holocaust survivors in America live — “55% of Holocaust survivors (approximately 40,000) can be considered ‘poor’ because they live below 150% of the federal poverty thresholds,” according to Pearl Beck, director of Geographic Studies for the UJA-Federation Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011.

On July 8, board members of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the organization that distributes the German government’s reparations payments to survivors, will gather in Midtown Manhattan for their annual meeting, just a 45-minute subway ride away from the Brooklyn Selfhelp center Anger attends.

A major point of debate at their gathering will be the Claims Conference’s own future. Two special review committees appointed by the board are due to deliver reports meant to follow up on findings of corporate misgovernance last year by the organization’s own ombudsman. According to a JTA report, the two committees will recommend that the Claims Conference negotiate with the German government for further funds in the future, even after the last survivor dies, to be used for continuing Holocaust education and commemoration.

But what about the disproportionate poverty in which Holocaust survivors are living now?

The Claims Conference did not respond to a request by the Forward for the board meeting’s agenda, making it impossible to report how much of the meeting will be devoted to this problem. But interviews with several of the Claims Conference’s present and past board members reveal disparate views on how the group should deploy its assets to better mitigate the high poverty rates among its prime constituents.

One thing on which all appear to agree is the futility of raiding the Claims Conference’s own standing assets, valued at more than $500 million. These assets, much of them in the form of European real estate formerly owned by Jews or Jewish institutions, are held separately from the ongoing revenue stream the group receives from the German government to make reparation payments. The organization obtained most of these assets through negotiations with the German government after East Germany and West Germany reunited.


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!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • 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.