Holocaust survivors get cash boost

By Toby Axelrod, March 26, 2009

Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe — many of them living in poverty — are to receive major increases in monthly payments from Germany, following intensive negotiations with the Claims Conference that ended last week in Berlin.

The agreement means that an estimated £55 million in extra funds will be paid over the next 10 years to approximately 13,000 Holocaust survivors in 22 countries.

There will also be major increases in Central and Eastern European Fund (CEEF) monthly payments to survivors in EU and non-EU countries.

The agreement was “heartening”, said former US Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat following negotiations with the Ministry of Finance, represented by state secretary Karl Diller. “It reinforces for me the commitment I saw during the lengthy negotiations with the Germans [on behalf of the Clinton administration] to continue their moral responsibility.”

“These people are really in need,” said Ben Helfgott, one of several Holocaust survivors on the negotiating team. “€240 may not mean a lot in the UK, but in that part of the world it makes a huge difference.”

Helfgott, who was born near Lodz and is the only person in his immediate family to survive the Holocaust, said he had visited many elderly survivors in Ukraine over recent years.

“Every time I went into their homes I walked out with tears in my eyes,” he said. Many had had good jobs but lost their savings and pensions when communism collapsed. “I would come back home and would hear my friends talking about their problems. And I said, I can solve your problems very quickly. Go to the Ukraine and see how these people live. It is heartbreaking.”

While an increase in compensation can help materially, there is no cure for the loneliness faced by many survivors, whose extended families were destroyed. “Time is not the best medicine for the survivor,” said New Yorker Roman Kent, another survivor on the team. “When you are older, you think about what happened not yesterday, but what happened 60, 70 years ago.”

According to the agreement, as of January 2010, all recipients of CEEF pensions will receive the equivalent of about £220 per month, which represents a 35 per cent increase for those in non-EU countries and an 11 per cent increase for EU residents.

Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference executive vice president, said there would be an unprecedented second meeting before the end of 2009 to deal with open questions such as home care funds for 2010.

    Last updated: 5:03pm, March 26 2009