|Israeli diplomat Colette Avital, in yellow, who is active in restitution work, is at a recent Claims Conference symposium. Marco Limberg/claims conference|
Nearly 70 years after World War II, the German government has officially acknowledged the unique problems facing child survivors.
Last month, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany announced that Jews who were in concentration camps or ghettos when they were children, or spent at least six months in hiding from the Nazis during their childhoods, will receive financial assistance from the German government to help them cope with problems caused by the physical trauma and malnutrition those experiences caused them. The agreement provides for a one-time payment of 2,500 euros. That’s not quite $3,200 per person.
Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider acknowledged that “all of this is being driven by the fact that we’re in the final years. If there’s going to be any final message that the German government or the German people are going to give to survivors, these are literally the last years to do it.”
He estimates that some 75,000 survivors around the world could qualify for the payments, noting that “a range of injurious experiences has had a cumulative effect … resulting in late-onset problems that are only now manifesting as physical and psychological symptoms in the survivors’ advanced age.”
Clearly, Mr. Schneider said, “There’s no amount of money that can ever compensate for what happened to a person during the Holocaust, but even a symbolic acknowledgement is extraordinarily important.”
That sentiment has been echoed by two local survivors – one from Fair Lawn, one from Teaneck, both members of Hidden Children of Bergen County.
Carl Hausman of Teaneck, who wrote a memoir, “Rescued: The Story of a Child Survivor of the Holocaust in France,” noted that after Kristallnacht, “the Nazis forcefully expelled my family from our home in the southern region of Germany.”
Together with 6,500 other German Jews from that region, the then 7-year-old was transported to an internment camp in the south of France. He was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
As Mr. Hausman told the Jewish Standard in a 2009 profile, discussing why he wrote his memoir, “I felt that I should leave something behind. My thought was that my family should have some background about what I went through, and that young people, especially, should be educated as to what happened.”
In the concluding pages of his memoir, Mr. Hausman writes, “When I see my grandchildren with their parents, I realize what I missed in my own childhood. As a parent and grandparent, I have learned the central importance of a supportive, nurturing, and loving family to a child’s growth and development.
“But the Nazis stole this from me. In my mother’s last postcard to me from Riversaltes, which I received in the children’s home in St. Raphael, she inquired about a toothache that I had mentioned in a recent letter to her. I was eight and a half years old. Shortly thereafter, she was deported, and the attentive, loving concern of family ended in my life. It would be a long time before a close family member would again inquire about my pain – after my childhood was already over.”
Mr. Hausman, who came to the United States in 1947, said while some survivors have received some sort of restitution payments over the years, “whatever we get certainly doesn’t compensate for the life we went through.”
While he acknowledged that he was fortunate to have been hidden with a “nice Christian family” in France, he said that many others were not treated so well.
“Memories just don’t fade away,” he said. “For the people who went through these traumas, this is not something you can forget.”
The Fair Lawn resident, who preferred not to be identified, was one of those who did not fare. She and her mother hid in the Ukraine. Posing as Christians, they lived with “the poorest people in a primitive village. We lived in a hut with one room.”
And while her hosts did not know she was Jewish, “they would have turned us in” if they did, she said. “Ukrainians and Poles were very anti-Semitic.
“I lost four years of schooling, my innocence, my childhood. I had no family but my mother, and no friends. My mother was afraid if I played with [other children] something might come out.
“Children were not spared. We knew the danger. We knew what was happening.” When her mother was taken by the police and held in jail for several days, “the Gestapo tried to interrogate me.”
While the former hidden child believes she will receive some compensation under the new agreement, “It doesn’t make up for anything,” she said. “Who can pay me for losing family, having no childhood? But it’s something. The Claims Conference has been fighting for this for a long time.”
“The acknowledgement is important,” she added. “The amount of money is insignificant.”
On the other hand, she said, “there are many survivors who are very poor. They desperately need that money.”
While it’s hard to tell if problems she has today are related to age or to her years as a hidden child, “it certainly had a tremendous impact psychologically,” she said.
Some friends, however, have experienced physical problems that are the result of their traumatic childhoods. One friend, for example, “has serious stomach problems,” she said. “While she was with the partisans, she drank something with chemicals that damaged her stomach.”
Many, she said, have lived with problems like these. And, she added, “we have all had nightmares.”
|For more information or to request an application for compensation: Call 646-536-9100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eligibility is open to people who were born on January 1, 1928, or later AND who were persecuted as Jews in (I) concentration camp or (II) ghetto (or similar place of incarceration in accordance with the German Slave Labor Program) or (III) in hiding or under false identity for a period of at least six months in Nazi-occupied territory or 12 months in Axis countries (in accordance with the persecution requirements of the Article 2 Fund).
Applications will become available on January 1, 2015.