In 1951, representatives of 23 major international Jewish organizations — spanning the Jewish world from the Orthodox Agudas Israel to the Reform World Union of Progressive Judaism — formed the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Over the last 70 years, thanks to Claims Conference negotiations for material compensation for Holocaust survivors around the world, Germany has paid more than $90 billion to individual victims for their suffering and their material losses that were caused by Nazi persecution.
Although many survivors have died, those who were teenagers or children during the war are entering a stage of life when they may need assistance in such areas as homecare, food and medicine.
And that demands a great deal of money.
On March 2, the Claims Conference announced the allocation of $720 million, the largest amount ever distributed in a single year, to more than 300 social welfare organizations that provide homecare and supportive services for some 120,000 frail and vulnerable Holocaust survivors. This is in addition to payments to individual survivors.
Among those organizations are 11 Jewish Family Service agencies in New Jersey.
The largest of the 11 grants, more than $4 million, went to Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Northern NJ. The Teaneck-based agency provides essential services and support to about 350 survivors.
JFS of MetroWest, headquartered in Florham Park, received close to $2.9 million to serve the needs of more than 200 Holocaust survivors in Essex, Morris, and Sussex counties. JFS of Central New Jersey, based in Elizabeth, received $2.8 million to fund its services to approximately 130 survivors in Union County.
“Germany has accepted responsibility and has done more than any other country has ever done to compensate victims, but on the other hand it’s not nearly enough,” the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, Greg Schneider, said.
“Each year we bring data to make our case to the German finance ministry. The Bundestag members ask us how, if the total number of survivors is decreasing, we are insisting on larger budgets each year.”
The main reason is that “those who remain alive are getting older and sicker,” Mr. Schneider said. “They spend down their assets — if they have any. So the needs increase and the total costs of services increase each year even though some die.
“We estimate that in two years the needs will peak, and mortality will overtake the increasing needs. But we are not there yet.”
In 2020, the Claims Conference distributed approximately $350 million in direct compensation to some 60,000 survivors in 83 countries. It allocated approximately $610 million in grants to the local agencies providing them with vital services.
In 2021, the Claims Conference distributed approximately $820 million to more than 210,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocated $653 million in grants to the local agencies.
The big bump in direct compensation is explained by a new supplemental Hardship Fund payment authorized in 2021. This is a payout of about $2,800 to each of 150,000 people who did not live under Nazi occupation but rather fled Nazi mobile killing squads that murdered more than a million Jews in mostly Russian-speaking countries.
These people previously received a one-time payment, Mr. Schneider said. “Over the past several years, we made the argument to the German government that although they were compensated it was many years ago and they need funds now. We were adamant on this point because these 150,000 people suffered under communism and weren’t able to save money. They had poor healthcare in the countries they lived in.
“So they are now poorer and sicker, and this extra money really was important for each of them. If any readers know of someone who is entitled but did not receive a supplemental Hardship Fund payment in 2021, please contact us.” The Claims Conference website is www.claimscon.org.
Mr. Schneider said that in 2021, the Claims Conference budget for the 11 New Jersey agencies was $18.5 million; in 2022, it is $22.4 million. “That is a substantial 21 percent increase,” he noted.
Susan Greenbaum, the CEO of JFCSNNJ, noted the impact of these grants on the lives of local survivors.
“As a child of Holocaust survivors and CEO of JFCSNNJ, it is both a profound honor and an enormous privilege for me to participate in the provision of essential services to our vulnerable and deserving survivors, thanks to the unparalleled advocacy of the Claims Conference,” she said.
Diane Squadron, CEO of JFS of MetroWest, said the Claims Conference funding “allows us to provide meaningful services to a population that has been traumatized in ways we can’t begin to image. It gives them support in a way that allows them to feel safe, and many times it’s being able to remain at home that allows them to feel safe.”
Clinical social worker Liz Levy, coordinator of Holocaust services for JFS of MetroWest, oversees case management, homecare, emergency financial assistance, and socialization programs for survivors.
“Without Claims Conference funding, all these services just wouldn’t be possible,” she said. “These are people who suffered so much in their younger years, and we don’t want them to suffer as they age.”
She cited as an example a survivor in her 90s who, like many of her peers, found herself socially isolated during the peak of the pandemic. She was hospitalized several times for non-covid related issues, and her senior residence restricted visitors.
“With this funding, we were able to keep her home to the end of her life, even when she needed round-the-clock homecare, and finally hospice care, so that she lived out her last days in dignity,” Ms. Levy said.
“There are many similar stories. Many survivors were isolated from their families. Many survivors were discharged from the hospital without the possibility of going to rehab, and if we didn’t have this funding to provide services for them, I didn’t know what would have happened.”
Dr. Squadron said there are always new clients added to the roster of Holocaust services as survivors get older.
“Many survivors don’t call us until they really need us, often in their 90s, because before they were functioning independently,” she said. “Our youngest survivors from the former Soviet Union are only in their 70s, and we have a Russian-speaking program here.”
Café Europa, an international social program for Holocaust survivors supported by the Claims Conference, is a highlight for many Holocaust survivors served by local JFS agencies. During the past two years, the program has moved to Zoom.
Debbie Rosenwein, who manages Claims Conference-funded programs at JFS of Central New Jersey, said a virtual Café Europa has continued meeting twice a month.
“Participants get a special kosher lunch delivered to their home and a chance to enjoy entertainment such as music, magic, and/or virtual travel,” she said.
“Our primary goal is to keep survivors living with dignity and respect in the comfort of home. In addition to homecare, funding from the Claims Conference allows us to offer a basket of services that include transportation, social work, nursing, Kosher Meals on Wheels, emergency financial assistance, socialization, and Uniper, a virtual senior center.”
Mr. Schneider said he views the Claims Conference’s mission as “taking care of one elderly Holocaust survivor like your grandmother — but doing it 210,000 times in 83 countries. That’s why our partnership with JFS is so important. For many survivors it’s like the family they don’t have.”
Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, the Claims Conference is scrambling to provide thousands of survivors with their allocated pension money as well as homecare, food, and medical services despite serious logistical difficulties caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“In Ukrainian cities under attack, they’re running out of food and medicine. In Russia and Belarus, the problem is transferring the money to the banks,” Mr. Schneider said.
“Survivors will be supported wherever they live, whether war-torn areas or conflict zones, and no matter the obstacle. Whether in the face of the ongoing pandemic, issues of inflation, or threat of war, we are committed to providing homecare, food and medicine to elderly poor Holocaust survivors. We will continue to fight for more year after year to ensure every survivor has the care they deserve.”