Board: Claims group should think again

An investigation into concerns about the Claims Conference, the New York-based body which distributes restitution funds to Holocaust survivors, has recommended that the conference's Goodwill Fund should be reopened for new claims.

An independent report, carried out for the Board of Deputies by barrister Jeffrey Gruder QC, found that the approach of the Conference "increases the sense of grievance felt by heirs and might make claims more, rather than less, probable".

Mr Gruder's investigation was prompted by persistent complaints about the operations of the Conference. Deputies alleged the Claims Conference lacked commitment to restitution of expropriated property in East Germany to its owners and heirs.

The Goodwill Fund has been closed to new claims since March 2004. It was established 10 years earlier to receive claims from heirs who missed deadlines in 1992 and 1993.

Heirs are frustrated and distressed over claims

Mr Gruder found that a comprehensive list of the names of former owners of properties and businesses, addresses and the compensation claimed or received had never been published by the Claims Conference.

He said a list which briefly outlined surnames and cities of claimants had appeared on the organisation's website for six months, but its removal was "regrettable and contrary to the required principle of transparency".

A list produced in 2008, and still available, notes assets recovered between 1993 and April 2008 by the Conference. But Mr Gruder said families were unable to identify properties or assets as no names of former owners appear.

In his report, Mr Gruder states: "It is not possible to consult any list which is presently available and identify a name, address and amount of compensation. Heirs find this frustrating and distressing."

He expressed surprise that a comprehensive list had not been published and recommended that the Board of Deputies use its influence to persuade the Conference to publish one.

His report highlights the case of Zita BenTal, who escaped Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. She now lives in Israel and wrote to the Claims Conference in November last year about her late father's former textile business in Leipzig.

She received no response from the Conference but was later helped by another survivor who traced the business and found the Conference received around 260,000 Euros in respect of the business.

Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference directors, said: "We thought we had an understanding with the Board that before they released the report we would have an opportunity to receive and review it, discuss it with the Board, and review possible next steps with the Board leadership.

"Unfortunately, we no longer have that opportunity."

He said the Conference would review the report and issue a fuller response in due course.

Last year, Board joint vice-president Paul Edlin, one of the Board's representatives on the Conference, set up a sub-committee to look at Holocaust restitution, having previously voiced concerns about "transparency and democratic accountability" in the Conference.

Last month 17 people were charged with participating in a wide-ranging and long-running conspiracy to defraud the Claims Conference out of $42.5 million (£25 million). Mr Gruder said the arrests were not relevant to the areas he had investigated.

    Last updated: 4:00pm, December 16 2010