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Needy survivors to get insurance payouts

NEW YORK, June 3 (JTA) — Needy Holocaust survivors around the world will soon get some more help. The Claims Conference announced this week that it will distribute $15 million in 2003 to needy survivors as part of a deal with German insurance companies to pay Holocaust-era policies for families of Nazi victims whose policies were never honored. The September 2002 agreement, negotiated by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, calls for distributing $132 million in humanitarian aid during the next decade to those survivors via 870 social service agencies in 31 nations. Such compensation marks the first step in ending a long, often-bitter struggle over settling unpaid Holocaust-era insurance claims due the now-aging victims of Nazi Germany, many of whom rely on social services to survive. “We’re finally seeing some of the benefits flow to survivors,” said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. “You’re turning the proceeds of theft into home care, food package and medicine.” In the first annual payments this year, slightly more than $6 million will go to Israelis; $2.4 million will go to U.S. survivors, with $1.1 million going to an estimated 65,000 New York-area survivors; and the remainder will go to survivors around the globe, including those in the former Soviet Union and in Western Europe. These payments follow years of sometimes bitter deliberations involving ICHEIC — a consortium that includes the Claims Conference, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, officials from Israel, major European insurers and U.S. and European insurance regulators — and the German Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation. German insurance firms and the German government funded that foundation. The payout appeared to partially temper criticism of ICHEIC, which has been blasted for its slow pace and high overhead costs. In 2001 a House panel criticized ICHEIC for failing to reach a deal on the insurance payments. Last year the panel’s chairman, Lawrence Eagleburger, a former secretary of state, even threatened to walk out, but remained after securing greater authority to deal directly with the Germans. Talks are continuing between ICHEIC and insurance firms in other countries, including Switzerland. “It’s a sign certainly of progress with negotiations with the insurance companies, which have been difficult and long and drawn out,” said Taylor. Stuart Kaplan, chief executive officer of Self-Help Community Services in New York, welcomed Monday’s announcement as a critical infusion of cash at a time when the survivor population is aging and its needs growing. “While no one is satisfied with the speed of the settlement — it should have happened years ago — nor the amount — it should have been greater — it is certainly too late for some, but it is not too late for many.” Kaplan oversees the primary social service agency dealing with the largest survivor community in the United States and said Self-Help will receive $615,000 from the insurance deal’s humanitarian aid. That’s significant cash for Self-Help, which carried a $3.8 million budget for survivor care in fiscal 2002 — $1.2 million of which came from the Claims Conference and the remainder from donations. “We will be able to expand and enrich services to the Nazi victim community,” Kaplan said. Self-Help serves 2,700 survivors in the New York area, a population that has swelled by half over the past five years and is expected to climb until 2015, the end of most survivors’ life spans. Most of Self-Help’s survivor clients are between 65 and 74 years old, he added. By boosting social services to these older survivors, the insurance policy payments will help needy survivors — but only somewhat, Taylor said. “We don’t speak of meeting the needs of Holocaust survivors; we speak about making a difference,” he said. The Claims Conference — which is the central group battling for survivor restitution on various fronts — came under criticism recently from some Holocaust survivors for earmarking 20 percent of $430 million in proceeds of sales of unclaimed eastern German Jewish property for Holocaust education, documentation and research. That criticism reflected a wide debate over how to spend reparation money for forced German labor, looted Swiss bank accounts, insurance claims and unclaimed German real estate. Leading that campaign against the Claims Conference was the Florida-based Holocaust Survivors Foundation, which urged that all the German property reparation money go to needy survivors rather than education. Claims Conference officials defended the allocations, saying much of the money they distribute aids needy survivors through social welfare agencies. Next month, the Claims Conference board of directors is due to meet, and officials with the group say they may take up the issue of how to spend the eastern German property sales proceeds. Taylor said the first chunk of the insurance money will benefit groups that aid survivors, like Self-Help. The insurance money will allow Self-Help, for example, to increase the counseling and support it provides, as well as sponsoring events such as coffee houses for survivors, Kaplan said. ICHEIC, meanwhile, has posted a list of 363,232 people due unpaid claims, and they have until Sept. 30 to file. The list is posted at www.icheic.org. In another Holocaust reparation development, a New York group said eligible survivors who “voluntarily worked” in German-controlled Jewish ghettos can still apply for pensions retroactive to 1997. The Holocaust Compensation Assistance Project of the New York Legal Assistance Group said those who miss the deadline and are due compensation may still receive future payments. The group can be reached at (212) 688-0710.

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