Refugee’s 13-year fight opens floodgates for Kinder claims

Dozens of former refugees from Nazi Germany are set to receive improved compensation after a 13-year campaign by a London man.

Hermann Hirschberger, 82, was one of the 10,000 children sent to Britain by their parents on the Kindertransport shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

This week his tenacity paid off when Britain said it would remove a legal obstacle which, until now, has prevented many of his fellow-Kinder from getting the full German payments.

Mr Hirschberger, a founder member of Belmont Synagogue in North West London, said: "I started with my MP in 1995 and I went to so many ministers. Nobody wanted to know. It wasn't a matter of cosmic importance, it affects a few hundred refugees - although it was a total injustice."

In the early 1990s, the German government agreed to pay pensions as compensation to former German nationals who had come on the Kindertransport (and been subsequently stripped of their citizenship).
Applicants for the pension - which covered the years 1939 to 1948 - had to reapply for German nationality.

But when Mr Hirschberger and others took up the offer, they hit a snag. While many Kindertransport had studied during the war years, others had had to find jobs. Those who had worked, began paying contributions into the British pension scheme.

But for each year of UK pension contributions paid between the years 1939-48, the Germans correspondingly reduced their compensation payment. This was to comply with European rules on national insurance.

"Those who went to school, university or yeshivah and started work after 1948 got the full pension," Mr Hirschberger said. "But those without a family or rich uncle to pay for them to go to school and university, had to start work. If a boy or girl started work in 1940, they would get only a ninth of the pension. Instead of getting something like £300 a month, some would be getting £40 a month."

Finally his protests against the anomaly, aided by the Board of Deputies and local MP Tony McNulty, found a sympathetic ear. On Monday, Mike O'Brien, the Minister for Pensions Reform, announced that UK pensions law would be amended to enable the ex-Kinder to qualify for their full entitlement from Germany.

"It's right we help this group of people," Mr O'Brien said. "Many of them lost members of their family in the Holocaust. They survived because they were sent to Britain as children. They stayed and worked here. A legal restriction has prevented them claiming the money due to them from the German government. After detailed negotiations over several months with the German government, we have now found a way forward."

Under the law, British pension contributions between 1939 and 1948 by ex-Kinder claiming the German payment will be nullifed. "If the UK contributions could be struck off the record, they [the German government] said they would pay," Mr Hirschberger explained.

He added that Mr O'Brien had indicated this would make no difference to the current British pension being received by the former refugees, which was "a very decent thing to do".

    Last updated: 4:59pm, July 31 2008