Battle for Holocaust compensation revealed in archives


Newly-released documents have revealed the struggle British Holocaust survivors faced when seeking compensation for their trauma.

The British government opened the Nazi Persecution Compensation scheme in 1964, giving a maximum of £4,000 each to individuals from a total of £1 million given to Britain by Germany.

Out of 4,206 applicants, only 1,015 received remuneration.

More than 900 of these files were released this week — the first of four batches to be made public by the Foreign Office over the next year.

Many of those who had their applications denied fell foul of strict rules which the government imposed, specifically that victims had to have been held in a concentration camp or similar institution.

Johanna Hill was arrested after tying up her husband when he found out she was hiding two British soldiers. He escaped, reported her, and she was sent to a Gestapo prison.

However, numerous appeals to activist organisation The Jewish Trust Corporation for Germany failed to stop her request for compensation being rejected because she was Austrian when persecuted.

Other survivors, such as Theresienstadt prisoner Gertrude Kuhnert, refused to settle for what they considered paltry recompense.

Despite being awarded £1,284, Mrs Kuhnert pushed for more money, explaining in a series of letters to the Foreign Office that she was “by no means content with the payment I got so far.

“After all, in our country I get no compensation for loss of property or life, (compared to) what other countries did pay for their Nazi-victims.”

Mrs Kuhnert, who was transferred to the camp from a Berlin prison, added: “The war criminals are better off than we, Nazi victims, are — besides we would not sell our life story so quickly.”

The British authorities’ frustrations were evident, with one memo from November 1964 noting how “Mrs Kuhnert was as much the victim of her own nerves as anything — the Nazis do not seem to have actually done anything directly against her.”

But as National Archives record specialist Dr George Hay observed at a preview of the files on Wednesday, adhering to guidelines, even to the point of apparent insensitivity, was a necessity.

“The government wanted to help people and didn’t want to be callous or unfair, but people had to meet the criteria,” he explained.“Almost always, those rejected were met with a well-written and thought-out explanation.”

Dr Hay said Britain had pushed Germany to give more money, enough to compensate twice as many people.

Karen Pollock, chief executive, Holocaust Educational Trust said: “More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, we are still learning about this appalling period in history. The opening of these important historical archives will help to shed light on the post-Holocaust issues faced by survivors, as well as allowing us to read what was likely to be the first written account many survivors gave of their experiences - no doubt they will prove to be essential academic and educational resources.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive