On Tuesday, the (expected) news broke that the FBI had arrested alleged perpetrators of a vast fraud against the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the organization that since 1951 has worked to bring a modicum of justice – or, at least, monetary compensation – to victims of the Nazis.
But the news accounts were oddly phrased. Headlines that the fraud was “at” the Claims Conference rather than “on” it communicated the misconception that the organization was somehow culpable.
As Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the arrests, “Without the extraordinary cooperation of the Claims Conference in ferreting out this alleged scheme to defraud [funds for victims of Nazi persecution], it never would have been exposed.”
According to a Claims Conference release dated Nov. 9 – the anniversary of the vicious pogrom that is called Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass” – “Upon discovering apparent fraudulent activity, the Claims Conference immediately retained outside counsel â€¦ to conduct an independent internal investigation. Within a matter of weeks,” the release continues, the organization brought its findings to the authorities.
It is true that there appear to have been – in the U.S. attorney’s words – “six corrupt insiders,” but the organization itself is credited for “ferreting out” them and their alleged scheme. (For an assortment of relevant documents, go to www.claimscon.org.)
As Julius Berman, the Claims Conference chairman, wrote in these pages in September, “For 59 of those 65 years [since the end of World War II], the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany â€¦ has been there to help … survivors rebuild, establish lives, and obtain a small measure of justice. Through decades of negotiations with governments and industry, of issuing payments and recovering assets, of continually pushing for historic recognition of victims’ rights, the Claims Conference has been a singular, historic endeavor.”
Its life-enhancing work should not be tarnished by the greedy, even wicked, acts of a few.