Category Archive: Restitution

Roma Holocaust survivors look to Jews as model for recognition — and reparation

Despite the murder and confiscation of property during WWII, illiteracy, lack of organization and racism prevent the community from receiving proper compensation

 By Julie Masis

CHISINAU, Moldova –This September, about 70 Roma survivors of World War II in Moldova will receive compensation from Germany.But the reparations given to these elderly people in Europe’s poorest country will not take the form of cash — only food and coal to use as fuel, and only for a few months. The budget is about $600 per person.

“These are people who never received any compensation before,” said Marin Alla, the director of the Voice of the Roma Coalition, an NGO that is distributing the aid from the Germany-based EVZ Foundation. “They are trying to survive. Some have a pension of 15 euros ($18) per month, others get 50 euros ($60) per month.”

He said there are now about 600 Roma who lived through WWII left in Moldova, but the funding from Germany is not sufficient to help all of them.

None of the Roma Holocaust survivors in Moldova currently receive German pensions, he said.

Jewish Holocaust survivors in Moldova who were in camps, ghettos and labor battalions have been receiving a pension of 336 euros ($400 USD) per month since 1998. Even those Moldovan Jews who fled from Fascist occupation have been entitled to a one-time hardship fund of 2,556 euros ($3,048 USD) since 2013, according to Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference.)

In addition, Jewish victims of Nazism in Moldova receive help with home care, food, medicine, as well as winter clothes and coal. Almost 700 elderly seniors in Moldova are currently receiving this aid, according to the Claims Conference.

The situation in Moldova is similar to the rest of Europe, where compensation for Roma survivors of the Holocaust came many decades after the Jewish survivors began receiving compensation — or not at all.

“The authorities said, ‘The Roma had nothing anyway, so what should they be compensated for?’” said Mirjam Karoly, the senior advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose father was born in a Roma concentration camp in Austria. The authorities said, ‘The Roma had nothing anyway, so what should they be compensated for?’

“They were second-class victims. [The authorities said] the Roma are not victims of the Holocaust because they were put into camps for crime prevention purposes because they were criminals. So they were using the Nazi language,” she said.

The compensation for Roma survivors has varied from country to country.
For example, a year ago, it was announced that Roma survivors in the Czech Republic would get a one-time payment of 2,500 euros ($3000) each as a result of months of negotiations between the Czech and German foreign ministries.

In Romania, 200 Roma survivors began to receive monthly pensions from Germany two years ago — but only thanks to the efforts of a dedicated historian. Because the compensation came 70 years after the end of the war, very few of the survivors were still living.

Petre Matei, a researcher at the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, helped Roma survivors in Romania apply for German pensions. He said that the reason that the Roma began to receive pensions decades after the Jewish survivors is because many Roma are illiterate, the Roma community is not organized, and because there is still a lot of discrimination against the Roma.

“The problem for the Roma is that they can’t read and write, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to speak German,” Matei said. “Also, to be anti-Semitic could be problematic, but to not like the Gypsies in Eastern Europe, it’s not that dangerous.”

To be anti-Semitic could be problematic, but to not like the Gypsies in Eastern Europe, it’s not that dangerous

Of the 300 Roma Holocaust survivors in Romania who applied for German pensions because they were deported to concentration camps, 200 survivors received the pensions which average approximately 200 euros ($239 USD) monthly plus a sum of approximately 12,000 euros ($14,000 USD) which is supposed to make up for the money that they should have been paid in the last 10 years, Matei said.

The other 100 Roma concentration camp survivors did not receive the pensions because they were younger than 11 years old during the war, so the German authorities decided that they were too young to perform forced labor, Matei explained. (Those 100 people have become eligible for a one-time payment from Germany this year.)

It is not clear how many Roma Holocaust survivors received compensation in other countries because compensation programs often lumped the Roma together with everyone else.

As a result, the Roma were often underrepresented, according to Ralf Possekel, who is in charge of quality management at the EVZ Foundation in Germany, which is funded by the German government and private companies to compensate the victims of Nazi forced labor camps.

“Our experience is when we did a general project for survivors, very few Roma attended,” Possekel said. “It’s hard to reach the Roma people, it’s hard to include them.”  It’s hard to reach the Roma people, it’s hard to include them

Because of this observation, EVZ began to work directly with Roma organizations to help Roma survivors. In addition to the project in Moldova that started in September, EVZ has nine similar projects in Ukraine and one in Russia and is planning to expand the program to Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania, Possekel said.

The budgets of these projects are small and cash is not distributed to the survivors directly. EVZ funds food, home repairs and volunteer helpers for the elderly, Possekel said.

One EVZ project in Ukraine even aims to bring a Roma organization for Holocaust survivors together with a Jewish organization “because Jewish organizations have huge experience working with survivors,” Possekel said.

Indeed, while the Jewish and Roma communities have not been historically close, during WWII both suffered.

Of the 25,000 Roma who were deported to Romanian concentration camps from Moldova and Romania between 1942 and 1944, only approximately 11,000 survived, according to Ion Duminica, a Roma researcher at the Moldovan Academy of Sciences. But these numbers are estimates at best, he said.

Lured by fascist propaganda to the so-called “work camps,” the Roma perished from hunger, typhus and from the cold. There were cases of cannibalism, with parents trying to save their starving children by feeding them dead family members, Duminica said.

The Roma said, ‘We wished that we were executed like the Jews’

“The Roma said, ‘We wished that we were executed like the Jews,’” said Duminica who interviewed survivors. “When they remember [that time], they start crying.”

Worldwide, historians estimate that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Roma were murdered during the Holocaust, with some countries such as Germany, Austria, and the Baltic states losing their entire Roma populations.

“Many groups were victimized (by the Nazis), but only the Jews and the Roma were victims of the Final Solution, victims of genocide,” said Prof. Ian Hancock, the director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Hancock points out that the Roma also had their property stolen from them during the Holocaust — their gold, their horses, and their homes — and are therefore also entitled to compensation.

In Moldova, so far, this compensation has not come.

“They mistreated us then and they still mistreat us now,” said Artur Cerari, the Roma Baron of Moldova who is regarded as the most respected Roma leader in the former Soviet Union. “The Jews get pensions every year and every month, but the Roma got nothing.”


Nazi hunter says hundreds could still be at large

Efraim Zuroff expects a spike in convictions in coming years despite most suspects being in their 90s

000_KS3GP-e1485486822551Hundreds or even thousands of Nazi war crimes suspects could still be at large, one of the world’s leading experts on the matter said Thursday, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Efraim Zuroff said he expected a spike in convictions in the coming years despite most suspects being in their 90s, but admitted most were unlikely to face justice as many countries are unwilling to pursue cases.

“There are still hundreds, if not thousands of these Nazis, but the problem is who among them can be brought to justice?” the so-called Nazi hunter told an event ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday.

Since 2001, 104 Nazis have been convicted over their roles in the Holocaust, in which around six million Jews were systematically exterminated, figures from Zuroff’s Simon Wiesenthal Center show.

The annual number has been declining, however, and between April 2015 and March 2016 there was only one conviction, with two new cases filed.

In June a 94-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted in Germany.

Zuroff said he expected the number to increase in coming years.

“There will be a spike because of the whole change in German prosecution policy,” Zuroff told AFP.

In 2011 German legal policy changed to allow prosecutions of those who worked for the Nazis in the death camps, rather than specifically having carried out a killing, allowing for new trials of men and women in their 90s.

While he hailed Germany’s commitment to prosecuting as many suspects as possible, Zuroff pointed out many other countries have not pursued trials.

Collaborators in many countries had been largely immune from prosecution as their governments were unwilling to push the matter, he said.

“In a country like Ukraine, for example, there are a lot of Ukrainians who were involved,” he said.

“They have never initiated a single investigation.”

Zuroff said in both Norway and Sweden statute limitations mean that Nazi war criminals could not be prosecuted.

“In Norway there were people who volunteered for the SS, were sent to the east and were involved in crimes against humanity in Ukraine,” he added.

Zuroff said it was a race against time to convict people before they die.

“It is drawing to an end for obvious reasons,” he said, calling it the “biological solution”.

Asked how the world would look back on their attempts to bring Nazis to justice across the world, Zuroff said “there is no question it failed.”

“The huge number of people involved made it impossible to bring all the perpetrators to justice, so the question is how many will be brought. I look at it that every person brought to justice is a victory.”


Populist who urged end to Nazi guilt can stay, German party rules

Local AfD party chairman Bjoern Hoecke called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial ‘a monument of shame’

FILES-GERMANY-POLITICS-HISTORY-HOLOCAUST-AFDBERLIN, Germany — German right-wing populist party AfD decided Monday not to expel a leading member over a speech criticizing Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and urging the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past.

The AfD executive board held a three-hour telephone conference in which it voted 10-3 to instead impose “disciplinary measures” against Bjoern Hoecke, party chairman in the central state of Thuringia, sources told German media.

Amid an internal power struggle ahead of a September general election, AfD leader Frauke Petry had called Hoecke a “burden on the party” last week after his address in which he condemned the sprawling Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame in the heart of the capital.”

“We need nothing less than a 180-degree shift in the politics of remembrance,” he added in the remarks Tuesday in Dresden to chants of “Germany, Germany.”

Hoecke’s comments met with an instant uproar, with Social Democrat vice chief Ralf Stegner accusing him of making a “hate incitement speech” — which is illegal in Germany — that called for history to be rewritten.

Germany’s Central Council of Jews also expressed outrage, saying Hoecke was trampling on the memory of six million Jewish Holocaust victims murdered by the Nazis.

But AfD deputy chief Alexander Gauland, who like Hoecke belongs to the hard nationalist wing of the party, defended the politician, telling national news agency DPA that he had “in no manner criticized the remembrance of the Holocaust.”

The AfD started out in 2013 as an anti-euro party, but has since morphed into an anti-immigration outfit railing against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy which brought some 890,000 refugees to Germany in 2015 alone.

The party, which also disputes the place of Islam in Germany, is polling nationwide at around 12 to 15 percent ahead of a general election on September 24.

A poll Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed that 61 percent of Germans believed Hoecke should be kicked out of the AfD for his speech.


Risking Everything to Defy the Nazis

The tale of Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, who lied and deceived their way to saving more than 100 Czech Jews during the Holocaust.

ShowImage (2)They bullied and bluffed, bamboozled and bedeviled bureaucrats, politicians and soldiers.

They climbed mountains and traversed other treacherous terrain. They fed the hungry and clothed the nearly naked. They smuggled refugees out of countries in which they were in mortal danger, into other lands, some of whose borders were supposed to be closed and most that were unenthusiastic about accepting the fugitives. They regularly risked their lives.

Leaving their two young children with friends, Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha did all that and more in their efforts in 1939 and 1940 to rescue Jews and others fleeing or hiding from the Nazis.

Their remarkable story is told by their grandson Artemis Joukowsky in Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which complements the documentary of the same name, co-directed by him and the wellknown American filmmaker Ken Burns.

Both works are based on a thorough study of the Sharps’ papers and interviews with those whose lives intersected with the couple.

It is difficult to quantify the Sharps’ efforts, their grandson writes. However, in the few months they were in Czechoslovakia and later for a short time in Vichy France, they apparently helped about 125 people flee to freedom from an almost- certain death at the hands of the Nazis. The two also provided money for transportation and clothes for other people to get to ports where their visas would allow them to escape.

In addition, the Sharps set up a feeding program in Prague that kept 264 people alive long enough to get out and provided milk for 800 starving French children for a month.

Even more amazing than the “what” is the “how.” Neither had much experience or training in deception, covering their trails or money laundering. But because the Nazis were stealing money sent by legal means, Waitstill Sharp set up bank accounts in neighboring countries by which he would receive money from donors and disburse funds to refugees from those bank accounts.

He also illegally exchanged dollars for Czech currency, because people allowed to leave were forbidden to take out any hard currency. Operating as an illegal money changer left Sharp with suitcases of local currency. With that money, he donated funds to the Salvation Army in Prague, which was feeding thousands of Social Democrats who were living on the streets or underground to avoid being captured by the Germans. He also gave large sums to the YMCA to expand its summer-camp program and for the reconstruction of a refugee orphans’ home.

Helping those that the Nazis wished to kill or capture was extremely dangerous.

A day or two before leaving Prague, an informant told Martha she was on a list of people the Nazis intended to imprison.

What motivated these two to undertake such a dangerous assignment – so risky that 17 other Unitarian ministers had turned down the offer of going to Europe before the Sharps finally accepted? On a ship back to America, German- Jewish writer and anti-fascist activist Lion Feuchtwanger, who had been rescued from his hiding place in southern France by Waitstill Sharp, asked his rescuer what motivated him to do what he was doing.

He received no money for saving people, the Unitarian minister assured the writer, and he was a sinner and no saint.

“But I believe the will of God is to be interpreted by the liberty of the human spirit,” Sharp continued. “So I do what I do without any piety at all but ad magna gloria libertatis humani spiriti [to the greater glory, freedom of the human spirit].

“As my friend Dick Ball said, ‘I don’t like to see guys pushed around.’” Upon her return to America, Martha Sharp, among other activities, helped in fund-raising with Youth Aliya, the Hadassah program that rescued European children and brought them to Palestine. In 1947, Hadassah sent her to pre-state Israel to see firsthand and learn about programs she had been supporting.

Later, she wrote of what she had seen during her six-week stay: “A great powerful stream of sacrifice and idealism is bringing about the birth of a nation. We are witnessing an epic like that of America. The pioneers are giving their lives and are challenging us to help in time.”

In 2006, Martha and Waitstill Sharp were named “Righteous Among the Nations.”

It was an honor duly earned.


Fund begins reimbursing survivors shipped to Nazi camps via French rail

US administering reparations to those who were not entitled to make claims under existing programs in France

nazi-campPayments have started issuing from a US-run compensation fund for Holocaust survivors deported to Nazi camps via the French rail system.

The $60 million compensation fund established in December 2014 has approved 68 claims and is processing an estimated 700 in total, Stuart Eizenstat, the secretary of state’s special adviser for Holocaust issues, said in a conference call Thursday.

The money comes from France, but the United States is administering and distributing the funds to eligible Americans, Israelis and other foreigners, their spouses and heirs who were not entitled to make claims under existing French programs.

In return, the United States protects France from American lawsuits related to Holocaust deportations of Jews from the country. Several US state governments banned their local transportation services from contracting with the French railway SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until the reparations issue was resolved.

Survivors can receive $204,000 under the program, while their spouses can receive $51,000.

The deadline for filing claims has been extended to January. The claims form and other instructions are available on the State Department website.


Germany ordered to pay restitution to Schocken family

Germany was ordered to pay the heirs of a Jewish department store chain nearly $68 million in restitution and interest for properties confiscated by the Nazis.

The ruling by a Berlin administrative court for the heirs of the Schocken family was announced formally on Thursday, according to German news reports. The court had made its ruling last month.

Before World War II, brothers Simon and Salman Shocken had opened numerous department stores, mostly in what later would be East Germany. Reportedly the most well known was the store in the city of Chemnitz, in a building designed by the architect Erich Mendelsohn.

After German unification, the state paid the family about 30 million Deutschmark, or about $27 million, in restitution for the Chemnitz building alone. It now houses the German state museum for archaeology.

In 1938, the department stores were “aryanized,” or confiscated. Their value is estimated at about $41 million; the rest is interest.

The decision may be appealed to a federal administrative court.

Salman Schocken also founded Schocken Books in prewar Berlin. He later moved the company to prestate Palestine and the United States.

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Knesset OKs NIS 1 billion in Holocaust survivor benefits

New aid package shows survivors they ‘are not forgotten,’ finance minister says

The Knesset on Monday approved an increase of NIS 1 billion ($290 million) each year in benefits for Israel’s dwindling, largely destitute population of Holocaust survivors.

The new benefits package, titled “The National Plan for Aiding Survivors of the Holocaust,” was initiated by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, and quickly passed its second and third readings on the Knesset floor Monday to be enshrined in law. The plan is set to increase stipends and streamline bureaucracy for some 200,000 survivors across many government programs.

The bill’s passage shows the survivors they “are not forgotten,” Lapid said after the initiative was approved, and added that the increased benefits were not just a piece of legislation, but a way of correcting a historical wrong and represented “a change in attitude.”

In addition to the additional financial benefits, the bill will “simplify the terrible bureaucratic journey Holocaust survivors were forced to endure to in order to receive what they deserve and exercise their rights,” Lapid said.

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Audi Admits Using 3,700 Concentration Camp Workers

German Car Giant ‘Shocked’ by Extent of Slave Labor

A new report by German car company Audi shows that 3,700 concentration camp inmates were forced to work in its factories during World War II.

Audi had previously acknowledged its role in exploiting forced labor, paying millions of dollars into a fund set up by the German government to compensate victims, according to the Daily Mail. But Monday’s report shows the extent of Audi’s complicity with Nazi Germany.

In a deal brokered with the Nazi SS, Audi had a total of 20,000 forced laborers working in its factories. The SS had six labor camps built for the company, which was then known as Auto Union.

The company also used its factories to build tanks and aircraft engines for the Nazis, according to the report.

Audi follows BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen in commissioning a report on its activities under Nazi Germany.

“I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labor,” Audi works council head Peter Mosch told German magazine Wirtschaftswoche, according to the Times of Israel. “I was not aware of the extent.”

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