For third straight year, Germany doubling up on funding for Holocaust survivors’ home care

NEW YORK (JTA) — The German government is doubling the amount of money it will provide for home care for poor Holocaust survivors, the Claims Conference said.

The increase announced Monday to $145 million for 2011, doubling the amount given in 2010, is meant to meet a growing need among the elderly survivors, and it comes as the sources of Claims Conference funds for Holocaust survivor programs — derived from the sale of heirless Jewish property in the former East Germany — are drying up.

“We know there is need in two places” — home care and other services to survivors — the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, Gregory Schneider, told JTA. “Disgracefully, there are survivors on waiting lists in certain places. No poor survivor should have to be on a waiting list for home care. That is the bottom line.”

In negotiations with the Claims Conference, the German government began funding home care in 2004 with an initial allocation of 6 million Euro (about $8 million by today’s exchange rates). The allocation has steadily increased; it has nearly doubled in each of the last three years.

The Claims Conference projects that the need for home care will increase until 2014, when it likely will hit a tipping point before starting to decrease as today’s estimated population of 520,000 survivors dies out.

In 2011, the money will go to support home care services for more than 60,000 survivors in 32 countries. In total, the Claims Conference distributes $270 million in funding to services that support survivors. This includes money obtained by the Claims Conference from the sale of heirless Jewish properties in the former East Germany, but it does not include direct payments to survivors from Germany for which the Claims Conference acts as a pass-through.

In all, Claims Conference-distributed money goes to more than 100 organizations that provide home care, food, emergency assistance and medical care to Nazi victims in 46 countries.

This week’s announcement comes about a month after the FBI made 17 arrests in a $42 million fraud scheme at the Claims Conference in which employees of the organization filed fraudulent claims for people who were not victims of Nazi Germany, thereby obtaining millions of dollars from the German government through the Claims Conference. The fraudsters received kickbacks from the claimants.

Schneider and the chief negotiator for the Claims Conference, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union Stuart Eizenstat, said the arrests and ongoing investigation did not weigh on the negotiations with the Germans. On the German side, the negotiations were led by Werner Gatzer, the state secretary at the Finance Ministry.

The Claims Conference said it notified the German government of the fraud weeks before the fraud became public.

“It played no role in the negotiations,” Eizenstat said, although he did say that the Germans had to get final permission to make the home care agreement public because of the negative press associated with the fraud.

Germany’s Finance Ministry is now working with the Claims Conference to strengthen the organization’s internal controls, adding extra vetting and precautions to make sure that the money only goes to survivors, Eizenstat said.

Claims Conference officials told JTA that they are in the process of trying to recover the fraudulently obtained money and will return it to the German government.

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