German judge faces punishment for helping survivors apply for ghetto pensions


(JTA) — Jewish leaders and others are rallying to the aid of a German judge facing punishment for helping Holocaust survivors apply for ghetto pensions.

In an open letter that has been picked up by German Jewish and mainstream media, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has urged the German minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia to intercede on behalf of Jan-Robert von Renesse, a social welfare judge in her state.

In 2014, Von Renesse was accused of causing “reputational damage of the social jurisprudence” after it emerged that the judge — who had questioned the rejection of ghetto pension applications — visited Israel eight times in 2007 and 2008 to interview more than 120 Holocaust survivors there.

The judges’ disciplinary court in Dusseldorf will render its verdict in the case on Tuesday. If found guilty, von Renesse faces a fine, a reprimand, suspension or forced resignation from his post in Essen.

Von Renesse said he had gone the extra mile for the survivors because he felt that many applicants for the so-called ZRBG pension had been unduly rejected based purely on written testimony. He said written testimony is admissible only if there is no other way to get information from a witness, so he went to Israel to gather his own information.

Afterward he was banned from hearing ZRBG cases and his expected promotion was canceled.

According to the Claims Conference, in 2012, when the judge successfully pushed for the retroactive payment of the pension to 1997, his superiors filed charges against him, claiming his petition was inappropriate because of his status as a judge.

Claims Conference President Julius Berman said in a statement that “Germany would be setting a horrible precedent to punish a public servant who is pursuing justice.”

Among those signing the letter urging leniency from the minister-president, Hannelore Kraft, are Colette Avital of the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel and a former Knesset member; Volker Beck, a Bundestag member from the Green Party and a member of the German-Israel Parliamentary Group; Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee; Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Rudiger Mahlo, Germany’s representative to the Claims Conference.

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