PRAGUE (Aug. 26)
For Vera Schimmerlingova, the possibility that Germany may finally pay individual compensation to Holocaust survivors in the former Soviet bloc is too little, too late.
“I am sick and tired” of discussions about compensation, said Schimmerlingova, a 72-year-old Czech Jew who survived the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.
“We are all going to die soon anyway. I don’t think the German government is really prepared to compensate us.”
Her bleak assessment of the situation came after Jewish negotiators failed last week to reach an agreement with Germany on reparations to Holocaust survivors living in Eastern Europe.
Schimmerlingova and other Czech Holocaust survivors are frustrated and angered by Germany’s long-standing reluctance to compensate them directly for their wartime suffering.
She is one of some 1,300 Czech Jews who would be eligible for compensation if and when the German government reaches agreement with the Jewish negotiators.
Unable to secure a deal last week, the German government and a delegation of Holocaust survivors and Jewish officials of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany announced the establishment of a joint commission to recommend solutions in three months.
But even if Germany agrees to pay compensation to survivors living in former Sovietbloc countries, the country will not be as generous with them as it was with survivors living in the West, German officials have said.
This has provoked anger among Jewish leaders here.
“This is the German government’s last chance” to compensate Czech Holocaust survivors “because more of them are passing away every month,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.
“If the German government doesn’t meet its responsibilities now, the German state will live in eternal shame.”
Among the issues to be negotiated is whether the German government will make a one-time payment or provide pensions to survivors in Eastern Europe.
Israel Singer, the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress who led negotiations for the Claims Conference, has been optimistic that the negotiations will result in pensions.
He also described the commission that was created last week as an important development in the long-running effort to seek justice for the so-called “double victims” of World War II.
“They were twice victims — once of Nazism and the second time of Communism,” Singer said of the Eastern European survivors who never received reparations.
“We saw to it today,” he said, “that they will not be a third time victimized.”
Friedrich Bohl, the chancellery minister representing the German government in the negotiations, said at a news conference last week that he was optimistic a solution could be found.
Parliamentary members of the opposition Green Party, who have long urged the government to pay survivors in Eastern Europe reparations similar to those who live in Western countries, said it was unacceptable to further postpone the decision when survivors are dying every day.
Germany has paid more than $54 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors since World War II.
However, those living in Soviet-bloc countries were unable to apply for compensation during the Cold War, and Communist East Germany refused to make any payments.
The Claims Conference and other Jewish groups are now demanding that these survivors, estimated to number between 15,000 and 40,000, be deemed eligible for compensation.
Germany has come under increasing pressure to reach an agreement amid revelations that it is paying pensions to thousands of SS and Nazi police veterans living in Eastern Europe and outside of Germany while refusing to compensate Eastern European Holocaust survivors.
Last year alone, Germany paid 1.1 million veterans and dependents of Nazi Germany’s armed forces so-called disability pensions totaling nearly $8 billion, according to recently published figures. The recipients included tens of thousands of suspected war criminals.
Germany began allocating some money to Eastern European victims after the collapse of communism.
But Jewish groups have complained that much of the money never reached Jewish survivors or that the one-time lump payments of up to several hundred dollars amounted to only a fraction of payments to Western victims, who have been given monthly pensions.
Bonn, for its part, has argued that the payments went far in the poor economies of the former Eastern bloc.
The two sides, meanwhile, also agreed last week to set up another commission to examine the criteria under which Holocaust survivors outside Eastern Europe are considered eligible to receive reparations.
About 27,000 survivors in Israel, the United States, Canada and other Western countries currently receive monthly reparations of about $275.
Jewish organizations estimate that between 20,000 and 100,000 other victims receive no pensions because of restrictive criteria.
In order to receive payments today, an individual must have spent at least six months in a concentration camp or 18 months in a ghetto and have an annual income of less than $14,000.