Claims Con­fer­ence cash ‘too lit­tle, too late for us’

The Jewish Chronicle - - HOME NEWS - BY RACHEL FLETCHER

THE CLAIMS Con­fer­ence is un­der fire for agree­ing to a “tiny” set­tle­ment that has led to claimants re­ceiv­ing frac­tions of their ex­pected com­pen­sa­tion over Nazi-era losses, and for the length of time it is tak­ing to pay peo­ple.

Ap­pli­cants to the Gen­eral Set­tle­ment Fund (GSF) in Aus­tria — es­tab­lished in 2001 — will re­ceive no more than 15 per cent of their to­tal claims. Down pay­ments be­ing made this year are just 10 per cent of the to­tal.

In­di­vid­u­als seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion have at­tacked the Claims Con­fer­ence and its chair­man, Is­rael Singer, for agree­ing to just $210 mil­lion (£107m) to rec­om­pense Aus­trian Jews and their heirs for liq­ui­dated busi­nesses, prop­erty and unre­deemed in­sur­ance poli­cies.

Vi­enna-born Peter Phillips, 71, now liv­ing in Loud­wa­ter, Hert­ford­shire, will re­ceive just 13 per cent of his $86,000 (£44,000) claim. Apart from the down pay­ment, no date has been set for the re­main­ing three per cent of the to­tal.

Mr Phillips, who came to Bri­tain aged three, told the JC: “Luck­ily I’m not poor, but there are some peo­ple who are re­ally hard up and were re­ly­ing on this money and are now get­ting next to noth­ing. We have been un­be­liev­ably let down by the Claims Con­fer­ence, the World Jewish Congress and Is­rael Singer.”

He crit­i­cised projects such as a Yid­dish theatre in Tel Aviv and re­build­ing the Hakoah sta­dium in Vi­enna, which ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ments have helped fund, as money-wast­ing.

“I’m not an­gry with the Aus­tri­ans — nat­u­rally they would try to get away with pay­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. But I’m an­gry that that’s what Is­rael Singer agreed,” he said.

Fel­low claimant Eve Labi, also Vi­enna-born, said that she would be “push­ing up the daisies” by the time pay­ments were made.

“They say the bal­ance can’t be dis­trib­uted un­til all claims are made. I’m nearly 85.”

Ac­cus­ing the Claims Con­fer­ence of “not budg­ing” in try­ing to rene­go­ti­ate, she com­plained of the de­valu­ing dol­lar and said ac­crued in­ter­est from the $210 mil­lion, paid to the GSF in 2005, should be used for com­pen­sa­tion.

“It should gather $6.3 mil­lion a year, based on an in­ter­est rate of three per cent, though it’s di­min­ish­ing as pay­ments are made,” she said.

An­other Bri­tish claimant, Rita Knopf, 75, said: “I feel let down but I’m not sure who to blame for it. It’s be­ing dragged out for a long time and we are all get­ting older.”

Michael New­man, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral Of­fice for Holo­caust Claims in the UK, es­ti­mated that there were 2,000 claimants in Bri­tain.

“To wait for so many years to re­ceive so lit­tle is yet a fur­ther in­sult to Aus­trian Holo­caust sur­vivors, whose anger is not re­served ex­clu­sively for the Aus­trian gov­ern­ment. With­out mean­ing­ful com­pen­sa­tion, many of our mem­bers will find it im­pos­si­ble to close this dark chap­ter.”

A Claims Con­fer­ence spokes­woman said the GSF was han­dled by Aus­trian au­thor­i­ties and said that Aus­trian Jews had been con­sulted dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“The Claims Con­fer­ence is in con­stant dis­cus­sion with Aus­trian au­thor­i­ties in an ef­fort to im­prove this pro­gramme, as well as to ex­pand other ben­e­fits for for­mer Aus­trian Jews,” she said.

The Yid­dish Theatre was “of­ten the only re­main­ing link that Jewish vic­tims of Nazism have to their de­stroyed world and cul­ture”.

Han­nah Less­ing, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the GSF, re­vealed that heirs would re­ceive money if claimants died first. She added that there had been very lit­tle ac­crued in­ter­est since the first pay­ments had been made only in 2005.

She noted that larger claims were made since the GSF re­searched cases, mean­ing smaller pay­ments per per­son.

“The law says we have to work on all claims first be­fore we can make a fi­nal pay­ment, be­cause we have a lim­ited amount. So in 2005 it was de­cided to make a down pay­ment of 10 per cent so that peo­ple do get some­thing.

“I hope th­ese peo­ple do not have to live off it but the Na­tional Fund (par­ent com­pany of the GSF) can help them, for ex­am­ple with op­er­a­tions or so­cial pay­ment. This money was never [in­tended] to se­cure old age, such as pen­sion and nurs­ing costs — [but] we are work­ing on that now.”

She stressed that the $210 mil­lion was only for com­pen­sa­tion and was not used for any other pur­pose.

Peter Phillips with his “dis­ap­point­ing” Aus­trian claims doc­u­men­ta­tion

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