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