American citizens imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps can seek restitution from the German government through a new U.S. government program.
“It is essential that those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis receive reparations for what they lost,” said U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who announced the program June 13 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center here. “We can’t calculate their loss in mere money, but we can seek to redress their losses.”
The Holocaust Claims Program is an outgrowth of the case of Hugo Princz, who battled the German and U.S. government for 40 years to obtain reparations for the 38 months he was held in Treblinka, Auschwitz and Dachau. His parents and six siblings died in the camps.
Princz, now 73, was born to a naturalized American businessman in what is now Slovakia, making him a U.S. citizen at birth. Although the family had American passports, they were imprisoned by the Nazis.
In September, the United States and Germany signed an agreement under which Princz and 10 other American survivors shared a one-time payment of $2.1 million from the German government.
The new program gives other U.S. survivors of the Holocaust until Sept. 30 to file claims with the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
Reno estimated that there may be five to 50 such survivors who, like Princz, fell through the cracks and were never compensated.
This number may include some American Jewish servicemen, who were sent to slave labor camps after being captured.
However, the claims agreement specifically excludes, at Germany’s insistence, survivors who were only subject to forced labor, as well as those who already received any amount of compensation. Princz’s attorney, William Blake of Washington, D.C., agreed with Reno’s estimate to other similar survivors, adding that he has been contacted by 10 to 12 possible claimants.
The amount of money paid to future claimants will depend on their concentration camp experiences, as well as on the total figures negotiated by the U.S. and German governments.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who, with the New Jersey congressional delegation, championed legislation leading to the Holocaust Claims Program, urged Justice Department officials to “err on the side of inclusion” in considering survivors’ claims.
“This is especially important in the case of survivors who suffered loss of liberty or physical abuse from Nazi persecution, but who may not have actually been in a camp,” Berman said.
Delissa Ridgway, chair of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, promised to be “very flexible in terms of documentation.”
Eligible survivors must file their claims by Sept. 30 with the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, Washington, D.C. 20579. For information or to obtain forms, phone (202) 616-6975 or fax (202) 616-6993.