Where former undersecretaries of state and ambassadors go to help Holocaust survivors.

By Jeanette Friedman

The newly established Humanitarian Aid Foundation, (www.humanitarianaidfoundation.org) located in DC, has come riding to the rescue of indigent and needy Holocaust survivors in the United States. In the last two years, the foundation has given out more than $500,000 in grants to agencies who serve survivors around the country.

It was founded, by among others, former Undersecretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat said he got the idea from the German slave labor agreement. “We were having problems getting a final figure, and I committed to finding ways to get American companies whose German subsidiaries were put into Hitler’s service to bring in additional funds. When I left the administration, I wanted to find a way to help in any event, so that gave me the impetus… but it was Dan McCormick’s and Wendy Pittman’s idea to set up the foundaion. I didn’t have the leverage that I had when I was in government, and when I was there, I couldn’t raise funds for the cause anyway. So I was looking for a vehicle, and Dan came to me with this idea that was based on my work. It turns out to be a happy marriage of my desire to raise additional money to fill the gaps and their initiative to help me do it.â€?

Eizenstat was a special envoy on Holocaust issues for five successive presidential administrations. He also served as ambassador to the European Union, and was extensively involved in all the negotiations concerning restitution for Holocaust survivors involving European governments and corporations up to and including the Gold Train settlement under George W. Bush. He worked with Jimmy Carter on the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and with Ronald Reagan on the Museum. He also helped establish the system that deals with stolen works of art and was instrumental in negotiating trade agreements and other treaties, including the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.

The Foundation was established in 2002, after the settlement of the slave labor case. It wants to augment funds being distributed by the Claims Conference, since there was not enough to take care of indigent survivors’ needs around the world. In addition to outright grants where necessary, the Foundation is also valuable as a source for creating matching funds to assist survivors. Said Eizenstat, “Readers of Together should know that we are looking at all available sources for funding, and now that we’ve gotten an initial big boost from some of the corporations, we are looking to raise more.â€?

As one officer of the foundation put it, “If we can’t take care of our few remaining Holocaust survivors, what kind of people are we?â€?

At the time of the slave labor settlement with the Germans, insurance companies and other multi-national corporations were put under historical scrutiny, and some American corporations were found wanting. Eizenstat and others created a non-governmental agency that would collect funds from major American corporations, individuals, private organizations and foundations for the benefit of victims of war and natural disasters. They began with a generous contribution from the Ford Motor Company.

Because the clock is ticking and the problem concerning indigent survivors is severe, the first round of grants has been designated for victims of slave labor who served in World War II. Last year most of the Foundation’s grants, almost $250,000, were distributed to a number of JFS agencies in Florida—a state that offers seniors no services—where most poor Holocaust survivors live. This year, the greater metropolitan New York area has gotten the bulk of funding.

American Holocaust survivors constantly plead with the Claims Conference, the distributor of the negotiated funds, to make changes in its allocations policies, so that funds for desperate cases would come forth more quickly. Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, is also treasurer of the Claims Conference, and has been a close colleague of Eizenstat’s through all the historical negotiations. They have fought as a team for years to wrest concessions, money and apologies from the Europeans.

In addition, Kent has been fighting his own Claims Conference allocations committee for additional funding. “Twenty percent right now goes for education, archiving and commemoration, but that can wait until we meet the needs of the indigent survivors. Unfortunately, that is a bitter battle that has yet to be won, but we have a job to do—to help our survivors.â€?

The Foundation estimates that, all told, there are approximately 130,000 Holocaust survivors in need in the US, couched away in nursing homes and hospitals, hidden in private apartments with no family, where they have fallen through the cracks. But the survivors are not the Foundation’s only targeted beneficiaries.

The Foundation also looking to serve the needs of other categories of survivors—including those who survived prisoner of war camps in the South Pacific and Japan during World War II—as all legal rights to compensation were waived when the U.S. began to redevelop its relationships in the region.

The organization’s officers are Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone / Chair of the Board
V.P. Regional Manager – Europe, The Boeing Company, International Relations; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat / Vice Chair of the Board, Covington & Burling; Dan H. McCormick / Secretary, Treasurer, President & CEO, McCormick Group; Ambassador J.D. Bindenagel / Vice President for Programs, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations;
Randolph Marshall Bell / Trustee, Ambassador at Large and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues for the U.S. Department of State; Niel Golightly / Trustee. Director, Sustainable Business Strategies, Ford Motor Company. Dan McCormick is the Foundation CEO and Wendy Pittman, its executive director.