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Talks stall on compensation for Eastern Europe survivors

FRANKFURT, Nov. 30 (JTA) — Talks between German and Jewish officials for expanding compensation payments to Holocaust survivors appear to be deadlocked — just weeks before a final report is expected. Two special commissions made up of German government officials and representatives of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany failed in meetings last week to produce any recommendations. Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of European relations for the American Jewish Committee and a member of one of the two fact-finding commissions, said he was disappointed by the latest discussions. “After meetings in October, we felt the German government was not ruling out payments to forgotten survivors,” he said, adding, “This time, there was no discussion of any financial contribution” by Germany. The lack of a compromise prompted Baker to question the German government’s commitment to making additional compensation available. He added that he hoped German officials would change their position at a final meeting planned for mid-December. The compensation talks began in August with an agreement that the two commissions would make their recommendations to the German government by the end of the year. One commission is dealing with Jewish calls that Germany pay Eastern European survivors reparations similar to those that were given to survivors living in Western countries. 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. German officials have said Bonn is not prepared to make such payments because they could open the door to hundreds of thousands of compensation claims from non-Jewish victims of the Nazis in Eastern Europe. The second commission was created 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. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has stepped up pressure on Bonn to expand the compensation payments. During a recent visit to Germany, the speaker of the Knesset, Dan Tichon, said there has been no response by German officials to a recent letter signed by 92 legislators demanding action. In an interview with the Berlin newspaper Der Taggespiegel, Tichon said it was time for justice, adding that he was frequently asked by Holocaust survivors in Israel why they have been forgotten.