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Survivors Organization Presses Germany to Pay for Health Care

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An organization for children of Holocaust survivors is pressing the German government to compensate survivors for their health care costs.

The initiative comes in the wake of revelations that Germany has been paying war disability pensions to more than a million of its World War II veterans, including non-German veterans of the Waffen-SS.

The German government should “treat its victims as well as it treats its own veterans — the perpetrators,” New York attorney Menachem Rosensaft said in an interview.

Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, recently launched a campaign to encourage the German government to create an insurance fund to cover the medical expenses of all Holocaust survivors.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce a resolution in Congress that would call for the creation of such a fund, according to a spokeswoman.

“The victims of the Holocaust have suffered irreparably at the hands of the German government,” said Rosensaft.

Rosensaft is primarily concerned with those survivors who are unable to afford necessary health care. A prime example is his own mother.

Rosensaft’s mother suffered untreated malaria and hepatitis while she was interned at Bergen-Belsen. As a result, she has developed severe cirrhosis of the liver.

Rosensaft and his wife are able to pay for the portion of his mother’s health care not covered by Medicare. Many survivors, however, cannot afford the health care they need.

Rosensaft said his mother’s condition made him “realize the scope of the problem.”

According to Rosensaft, there are “tens of thousands of survivors across the U.S.” whose failing health care is a result of their Holocaust experiences.

A spokesman for the German Embassy in Washington said that survivors already can submit their medical bills to the German government and be compensated for a certain percentage if they prove that their condition stems directly from the Holocaust.

Ulf Hanel, the embassy’s consul general, said that the German government follows a “complicated procedure” to determine the compensation percentage based on the survivor’s condition and age.

Reparations for “physical injury and damage to health” are part of Germany’s series of compensation laws, dating back to the 1956 Federal Law for the Compensation of the Victims of National Socialist Persecution.

Rosensaft, however, believes Germany should compensate survivors for all health care costs even if a person’s health condition is not directly linked to a concentration camp experience.

“Any survivor’s state of health has to be a result of the Holocaust,” he said, referring to both the physical and psychological torment that survivors endured.

Rosensaft wants the German fund to pay health care reparations to survivors in the United States whose expenses are not covered by Medicare, and to survivors living in the former Soviet Union and other former Communist countries in Eastern Europe.

Survivors living in Israel are of less concern because Israeli citizens receive comprehensive health coverage, he said.

Rosensaft wrote letters in May to President Clinton and members of Congress to inform them of the issue and encourage them to contact the German government so that Germany will “understand that this is an issue which the American government views with tremendous concern.”

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor, is writing a letter to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that will be circulated in the House of Representatives to obtain signatures.

With the letter, Lantos hopes to let the German government “know that this issue is important to Congress,” said Bob King, the congressman’s chief of staff.

King said that Lantos believes it is “outrageous that the Germans are providing the ex-Waffen SS members with disability pensions and not providing health care for the people who suffered.”

He said that it is hard to ascertain the impact that the congressional initiatives will have on the German government at this time, especially because Germany is currently facing very hard economic times.

Rosensaft, who was born in a displaced persons camp, is more concerned about the humanistic aspects of his campaign than he is in financial compensation.

He explained that he is primarily seeking a change in attitude from the German government — a change from ignoring its role in the deteriorating health conditions of Holocaust victims to acknowledging it.

“It’s a matter of justice, not a matter of money,” he said.

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