Tuesday, January 31, 2006
BY MARY JO PATTERSON
Star-Ledger Staff
A Jewish social service organization in Elizabeth is among the agencies chosen to distribute funds worldwide to needy Hungarian Holocaust survivors.

The Jewish Family Service Agency will be given $33,678 of $21 million just released as a result of the so-called “Gold Train” class action lawsuit.

That lawsuit, filed in 2001 and settled last year, alleged that U.S. military personnel stole valuables belonging to Hungarian Jews off a train at the end of World War II. The train, stopped in Austria, was carrying jewelry, gold, artwork, china, religious treasures and other items seized earlier by the Nazis.

As part of the settlement, the U.S. government issued a statement of regret for the soldiers’ actions.

Many of the 33 plaintiffs, including Agnes and Gabor Somjen of New Jersey, do not qualify for any of the settlement money as they are not needy.

“It will benefit Hungarian Jews, and I am satisfied. I was not looking for any individual compensation,” Agnes Somjen, who lives in Morris County, said yesterday. Her parents were forced to turn over their possessions in 1944, she said.

Somjen, 74, said she and her husband have lived in New Jersey since 1958. Her husband was a physician in Dover, and she was his secretary. “We worked hard and since we retired, we are living on our pension and IRA,” she said.

Jonathan Cuneo, an attorney in Washington, D.C., representing the Holocaust survivors, said the Somjens and other plaintiffs became plaintiffs out of “altruism.”

“Frankly, they are only too delighted to have the money go to their colleagues in need,” he said yesterday. “This suit has never been about money alone.”

Money from the settlement will be used for emergency services such as medicine, food, housing and home care to Hungarians judged financially needy.

About 62,000 Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust are spread around the world today.

How many live in New Jersey is not known, said Tom Beck, executive director of the Jewish Family Service Agency in Elizabeth.

“We estimate that in New Jersey there are 7,000 Holocaust survivors from all over,” he said. “We don’t know how many are from Hungary, but we do have on a record of a number of them who are needy.”