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German reversal allows fund aiding Czech survivors to open

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PRAGUE, Dec. 30 (JTA) — A sudden reversal by the German government has enabled a fund to aid victims of Nazism to begin operating as originally planned. The Czech Republic and Germany agreed earlier this year to launch the Fund for the Future on Jan. 1, 1998. But earlier this month Germany said it would postpone the launch due to political upheaval in the Czech Republic — the Czech government collapsed Nov. 30, a new prime minister was named Dec. 16 and the country is preparing for early elections. Czech President Vaclav Havel and local Jewish leaders voiced anger at the announced delay, mainly because at least 500 Holocaust survivors in the Czech Republic have died since the agreement to set up the fund was signed early in 1997. The fund will finance community projects for Czech victims of Nazism, but is not expected to provide individual compensation. There are now about 8,000 Czech survivors, 2,000 of whom are Jewish. Germany will give about $76 million to the fund, and the Czech government will contribute about $12.9 million. Members of the Czech Jewish community attributed the German government’s turnaround to internal criticism — from religious groups and political parties such as the German Social Democrats and the Green Party — and to pressure from abroad. A major factor in the turnaround, they said, was pressure by Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, which sent a letter to the German government imploring it not to postpone the fund’s launch date.

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