Gisela Schlanger had tears running down her face as she described her plans for the payment she was to receive this week from Germany for her Holocaust-era slave labor.
“My children are talmidei chachamim” — Torah scholars — she said at a press conference held by the Claims Conference. “I have a very special grandson, a tzaddik. The money I get I give him to buy sforim,” or books of Judaica.
A native of Slovakia, Schlanger was one of 130,681 Holocaust survivors from 62 countries who were sent payments of about $3,000 this week by the Claims Conference. The payout, totaling some $401 million, represented the second and final installment of payments from a $1.1 billion slave labor agreement with Germany.
It was the largest-ever single Holocaust payout in history, according to officials at the Claims Conference, which administers the Jewish portion of compensation payments from Germany to Nazi-era slave laborers.
The money comes from a $5 billion fund paid for by the German government and 6,000 German businesses, only some of which benefited from Jewish slave labor. Most recipients are non-Jews.
Combined with the first payment, which was paid to claimants as soon as their claim of having been a forced laborer was verified and processed, ex-slave laborers received a total of about $7,500.
The Claims Conference’s news conference Monday brought to a close to one of the conference’s central tasks: finding survivors and verifying their accounts of forced labor by the Nazis.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Claims Conference’s work — aside from providing some measure of compensation to survivors — was the historical facts about the Holocaust that the work helped bring to light, conference officials said.
Since the agreement to establish the slave labor fund was signed in 2000, researchers have been combing through more than 150 archives in 30 countries looking for data to verify survivors’ claims.
Just as the labor of 200 Claims Conference employees working on this task ends, the conference is hiring legal and financial experts for the group’s next big undertaking: finding the rightful owners and heirs of Holocaust-era Swiss bank accounts.