BERLIN (JTA) – For Aviva G., the significance of last week’s announcement that more Holocaust survivors like her will be eligible for pension payments from the German government was not about the money.
It was about principle and the notion that a certain degree of justice may now be done.
Aviva, 71, says there is no true compensation for years in ghettos, but she sees the new deal as a “recognition of suffering.” Aviva asked that her family name be withheld.
After extensive negotiations with the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Germany eased some eligibility requirements so more low-income survivors like Aviva can receive so-called Article 2 pension payments.
The agreement, which adds $250 million to the pension fund over 10 years, may be one of the last and biggest breakthroughs in the area of reparations to survivors, according to the Claims Conference.
The deal affects survivors whose income levels made them ineligible for payments in the past. Until now, those with annual income above $16,000 were excluded from the payments.
Under the new deal, income received from other pension sources, including governmental pensions, disability payments, retirement plans and the like, or a spouse’s income, will not be counted toward the $16,000 total.
The change effectively enables thousands more low-income survivors to collect pension payments from Germany. The funds will be distributed starting Oct. 1 and continue for 10 years.
“It’s a huge thing,” Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said in a telephone interview with JTA. “It will make a big difference for a lot of people worldwide.”
Taylor said it took “a long battle” and months of negotiations to reach the agreement.
The Claims Conference will be launching a major advertising campaign to reach those who might be eligible, he said. Information about how to apply is available at Claims Conference offices and on its Web site, www.claimscon.org. There is no deadline for applications, according to Taylor.
The decision to lower the bar for eligibility comes just as Germany has enacted a law granting pensions to victims of the German Communist regime. For these victims, too, pensions and income from spouses will not count against eligibility.
The Law for Support of Victims of the Socialist German Dictatorship, the third post-reunification law aimed at compensating victims of World War II, was enacted Aug. 29. Low-income applicants who were imprisoned under the Communist regime for at least six months may receive 250 euro per month.
The additional payments for Holocaust survivors will be from the Claims Conference Article 2 Fund pension program, which currently distributes pensions to 51,000 survivors. The new rules will lead to a 10 percent increase in those who qualify for payments, or about 6,000 people, the Claims Conference estimated.
Aviva may be among the younger ones. Born in 1938 in Boryslaw, then part of Poland, she was a small child when German troops wrested the region from Soviet control in the summer of 1941. Most of the town’s Jews were killed, but Aviva’s mother managed to hide her in the ghetto while most other children were deported.
“When my mother found out that all the women and children and non-working old men would be deported, we left the ghetto and hid in the woods, and then in the home of a Ukrainian woman who had worked for us,” Aviva said.
Her brother, who later was killed, gave the woman money to hide them. For awhile, Aviva and her mother lived in the space behind a wardrobe pushed against a corner.
The woman “slipped the food to us from below,” Aviva recalled. “I could not be loud. I could not laugh, cry or shout. And afterwards, for months I could only whisper.”
They were liberated by Russian troops at the end of 1944.
Aviva met her husband, Juergen, an engineer, in Israel, and returned with him to his native Germany in 1958. They had two daughters and now have five grandchildren who live in Israel.
For decades Aviva was a social worker for the Frankfurt Jewish community. She and her husband are retired.
She said she received a small reparations payment from Germany of 5,000 Deutschmark in the 1950s – that’s worth about $3,500 today – “but that is nothing for the fact that I basically lost my childhood.” She applied for Article 2 payments in 2000 but was told her income was slightly over the limit.
“That disappointed me a lot,” she said. “Thank God, I am financially not so dependent. It is more a moral issue. This suffering I experienced as a child was never recognized.”