Court Orders U.S. to Support Survivor’s Compensation Claim

In the long-running, carefully considered process of securing compensation for Holocaust survivors who suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany, somehow Jack Miller has fallen through the cracks.

The 70-year-old survivor only wants what he believes should be rightfully his – - the same lump-sum payment other U.S. nationals who were interned in concentration camps are due to receive from the German government in coming months.

The U.S. State Department, however, has refused to put forward Miller’s claim. In fact, it has vigorously fought a lawsuit Miller filed seeking to force the department to present his case for the German government to consider.

But now a federal judge, siding with Miller, has ordered the department to do so.

Under terms set forth in a 1995 U.S. court ruling, which awarded Hugo Princz and 10 other Americans imprisoned by the Nazis some $2.1 million, the United States and Germany have been negotiating an agreement that would provide payments for more than 200 additional American survivors of the Holocaust.

Miller, a U.S. citizen who is now living in Santiago, Chile, submitted a claim for compensation under the agreement in 1997, but the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, based on guidance from the State Department, rejected it. The commission determined that Miller did not qualify for compensation because he had previously been receiving a special pension for non-U.S. citizens from the German government.

That pension, however, was erroneously awarded to Miller. In 1995, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany awarded him a $290 monthly pension based on the understanding that he was not a U.S. citizen at the time of his internment.

Until recently, that had been Miller’s understanding as well. For years, the United States did not recognize Miller as an American victim of the Holocaust because he was born to an American mother overseas. Up until 1994, U.S. law only recognized those born abroad to American fathers as citizens, and Miller’s father was Slovakian.

But a 1994 law passed by Congress retroactively conferred citizenship on children born abroad to American women. That technically makes Miller ineligible for the pension he is currently receiving from the German government for non-U.S. citizens, and the German government has a right to reclaim it.

If that happens, and if the U.S. government does not espouse his claim to Germany, Miller could be left with no compensation, while also facing the prospect of having to come up with a way to repay what he has already received.

In denying Miller’s claim, the commission took the unusual step of determining the monetary amount — $95,000 — that Miller would be eligible to receive if the State Department did submit his claim.

For a Holocaust survivor living “hand to mouth,” as his lawyer describes, the material difference is huge between the $290 monthly pension he is currently receiving and the $95,000 lump-sum payment for which he would otherwise be eligible.

In ordering the State Department last month to support Miller’s claim, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene said that “to render a decision in favor of the Department of State would mean that this plaintiff — a man who was interned in a concentration camp, who watched as his father was tortured, who was starved, beaten and physically abused, and who was forced to engage in hard labor — would be deprived of compensation from any source.”

Greene added that the State Department has “shed ample paper tears about the plight of Holocaust victims, the need for morality, and the responsibility to compensate those victims. Yet the deeds do not match the words.”

The State Department, meanwhile, is asking the judge to stay the order. If that fails, the department intends to seek an emergency appeal.

The matter has taken on some urgency because the United States and Germany are close to wrapping up the agreement on compensation.

Steven Perles, Miller’s lawyer, said if a stay is granted, that would effectively end Miller’s chances of receiving compensation under the agreement because the claims process is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Perles said it remains to be seen “whether the government is going to be so difficult here that they will attempt to hold up the whole program in order to prove that no one can tell the State Department what to do. That would be catastrophic for a lot of these rather aged survivors.”

State Department officials would not comment on the case.

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