Is the Claims Conference fulfilling its mission?

I recently aired a program on my new show Outspoken on JBS, which focuses on the Claims Conference, an entity that has been shamefully mired in controversy.

Since the show aired, I have received heartbreaking emails from Holocaust survivors living in poverty, who have desperately been trying, without success, to receive the benefits they need from the Claims Conference.  I am compelled to publish, as my first blog entry, the opening monologue of my show, with the sincere hope that the Jewish community wake up, do what’s right and call for the Claims Conference to end the millions of dollars worth of grants to third party organizations that do not directly assist Holocaust survivors, until the needs of our survivors are met.  Let’s call for a moratorium on non-Holocaust aid grants immediately.

The program can be viewed in its entirety here.

If you don’t have an hour, you can watch this particularly moving interview I did with attorney Sam Dubbin, who works with the nonprofit The Holocaust Survivors Foundation (HSF), which is comprised of elected survivor leaders from throughout the United States, who came together “because of the increasing poverty and deprivation among our fellow survivors, and because high-profile ‘restitution’ processes failed to provide moral or material restitution to survivors” and their families.

The HSF has been trying for years to get the Claims Conference to do its job, and even wrote a very compelling letter to the New York Attorney General demanding the office exercise some oversight.  I urge you to read the letter here, and make your voice heard, call or write the Attorney General’s office today and likewise demand that our Holocaust survivors be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

After all, how much time do we have to make this right?

If you would like to see for yourself how much money the Claims Conference has given away to non-Holocaust survivor needs programs in 2017 alone, visit this link, make sure the “Type” drop down menu is set to “Education, Documentation and Research” and prepared to be astounded….

The following are excerpts from my opening monologue:

The Claims Conference is a New York based nonprofit.  It is the entity responsible for negotiating, mainly with the German government, to collect restitution money, and to recover stolen property, on behalf of holocaust survivors and their heirs.

The Claims Conference is supposed to take the money it gets from Germany and other governments, hold that money in trust and then give that money away to Holocaust survivors, to pay for things like food, medical needs, housing, and other basic necessities.

Instead, only a fraction of the assets looted from Holocaust victims and paid out to the Claims Conference have been returned to their rightful owners.

Rather, the Claims Conference has been funding what it calls “Education, Documentation and Research” to the tune of millions of dollars, acting like they have no legal or moral accountability to assist survivors to the best of the Claims Conference’s abilities.

Spending the money, with discretion, as though its theirs, which it’s not.

Equally as disturbing, after making it almost impossible for Holocaust survivors and their heirs to claim the properties it recovered from East Germany, the Claims Conference turned around and sold some of those properties, amassing a fortune that wasn’t theirs.

In the meantime, half of all holocaust survivors around the world live in poverty.  Here in America,  one third of Holocaust survivors live at or below the poverty line. That’s 61% of the 100,000 survivors left in the United States that are barely getting by, hardly able to pay their medical bills, their rent, living in dire conditions without even the ability to feed themselves wholesome nutritious meals.

It has been estimated that the Claims Conference has spent over 250 million dollars on things entirely unrelated to survivor care. Like the production of obscure films, research on North African Jewry, the digitization of photographs, and holocaust education for students and teachers.

Don’t get me wrong these are all worthy initiatives, but the Claims Conference is not a film production company, it is not a generalized grant making institution, it is the trustee for funds and property that belong to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

What kind of message are we broadcasting to those students the Claims Conference is sending on trips to Israel and Poland to commemorate the Holocaust, while at the same time thousands of survivors are struggling make ends meet and, as you will hear in this program, haggling with the Claims Conference to receive the money they desperately need to supplement their care, how humiliating. How disgraceful.

And therein lies the controversy.

Grants to the ADL for publishing handbooks. Cash for the Jewish Agency for weekend seminars for adults, these organizations don’t need the money, they have their own fundraising operations, and they certainly shouldn’t be taking money directly out of the pockets of holocaust survivors that do need it.

And then, there are the appalling scandals that have plagued the organization.  The 16 year 57 million dollar fraud that was orchestrated by Claims Conference employees exposing the total lack of proper governance and management. The $700,000 that was reportedly funneled to a consultant friend of then Claims Conference president Israel Singer.  The Knesset investigation of the Claims Conference for its failure to disclose the details of East German properties it had obtained. And, the alleged intimidation of its critics – the reported threatening of editors and journalists as well as agency executives who dare criticize the Claims Conference’s polices

Researching for this program I spoke with nonprofits that aid holocaust survivors and which receive funding from the Claims Conference – none of them were prepared to speak on camera about their experiences out of fear that they would risk losing their funding.

One of them however, agreed to give me an anonymous quote which reads:

“Every year the claims conference gives more and more money for educational purposes when the needs of survivors are so dire and they are dying out without adequate help. The German Home Healthcare program is a total scam because it does not take into account the physical conditions of Holocaust survivors. survives are capped at 40 hours per week leaving them without help on several days.  Recently one survivor fell on the floor and waited in agonizing pain until her aid came 2.5 hours later. The Claims Conference falsely advertises unlimited increases in home care hours which is a lie and they all but eliminated cash assistance for any other needs (medical, food, housing, burial). it is a SHANDA!”

The British Board of Jewish Deputies has called out the Claims Conference for its unethical behavior.  Holocaust survivors has testified before congress on the issue. The Holocaust Survivors Foundation, an organization composed of elected leaders of survivor groups,  even wrote a letter to the New York Attorney General calling for an investigation into the Claims Conference’s misuse of funds. All to no avail.

I invited the Claims Conference to come on the program to explain themselves, but they refused to appear.  Treating the issue with the same type of arrogant indifference that has characterized their work.

Folks, we have so little time left to make this right.  I am horrified to know that after suffering through humanity’s darkest period, the Jewish community and the AG’s office is standing by as survivors continue to suffer needlessly, while millions of dollars remain in the coffers of the Claims Conference.

I implore everyone watching today, call up the NY Attorney General’s office and demand they ensure the Claims Conference operates with the transparency and accountability that Holocaust survivors deserve. 

About the Author
Brooke Goldstein is a New York City-based human rights attorney, author, and award-winning filmmaker. She serves as Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about and facilitating a response to the abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law.
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