The German government has sent letters to perhaps hundreds of Holocaust survivors demanding that they pay taxes on their monthly ghetto pensions, The Jewish Week has learned.
But State Sen. David Storobin (R-Brooklyn) said that after a constituent came to him July 10 questioning the letter, he contacted the German Consulate in New York and was told it was a mistake.
“They said they did not intend to insult her and recognized the fact that this was an error that should not have been made,” Storobin said.
He said he had believed it was an isolated incident until he began mentioning it at constituent meetings.
“People would get up and say my mom or my aunt got a similar letter,” Storobin said, adding he believes some people probably paid the tax demanded.
A spokeswoman for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said her office is “aware that such letters were sent and has brought it to the attention of the German government, which administers those pensions.”
She said at least 40,000 survivors receive the pensions, which were established in 1997 for survivors who were given food, housing or other compensation during their internment in Nazi ghettos annexed to the Third Reich. Such payment is now considered as a contribution to German Social Security, making survivors eligible for old age pensions provided they meet certain qualifications. The amount of the pension depends on the length of time a person spent in a ghetto.
Storobin said the woman who came to her with the tax letter was from Russia and was unable to read or speak German. He said that when his office translated the letter, they knew immediately there was a mistake.
“By German law pensions are not taxable either here or there,” Storobin said. “Taxing a person who is getting reparations is unheard of.”
A spokeswoman at the German Embassy in Washington referred questions to Berlin and said she did not know how many tax demand letters had been sent.
Storobin said he is telling anyone who has received such letters not to pay the tax demanded and to call his office at 718-743-8610 or Consul Ellen Goelz, the head of the Legal and Consular Section at German Consulate in New York, at 212-610-9735 for further information.