More survivors eligible for reparations in new agreement with Germany

Lead negotiator for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Stuart Eizenstat, center, and his negotiating team hold talks in Germany in early July in what he called a “breakthrough year” in the annual Holocaust reparations negotiations.

Holocaust survivors from Iasi, Romania, for the first time are eligible for Holocaust reparations from the German government, following negotiations between Germany and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which handles German reparations.

Healthcare funding for all survivors was increased by millions of dollars. Specifically, the 2018 in-home services budget will increase from $399 million to $462 million and survivors of the pogrom and ghetto in Iasi are now eligible to receive compensation pensions, among the concessions successfully negotiated with the German government, according to the Claims Conference.

This round of negotiations also led to lifting a ban that blocked survivors who had accepted small sums in earlier years from being eligible for increased compensation now.

In the Washington area, more than $2 million in reparations money is allocated to the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville for services for more than 400 survivors, from home health aides to Meals on Wheels. Locally, the Claims Conference also has close to 250 survivors who receive, or have received, some form of direct compensation.

This was a “breakthrough year,” said attorney Stuart Eizenstat, a former ambassador to the European Union and lead negotiator for the Claims Conference. It’s especially notable, he said, because a few weeks before the two-day talks started on July 5, he was not confident they would even take place.

“I entered this round of negotiations with some trepidation,” he said, adding that preliminary conversations this year had been frustrating and there was talk of changing the negotiations this year to a “discussion about the future.”

A few things led to a turnaround, according to Eizenstat. For the first time in more than a decade, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble attended the meeting, and came away supporting the negotiations.

And, in a rare occurrence, the Germans asked for something from the Claims Conference, which it was able to agree to, Eizenstat said.

The German team proposed a pilot program that would replace certain provided health services with cash payments. The Claims Conference agreed, with the stipulation that the program would be strictly voluntary. The agreement set a reciprocal tone, Eizenstat said.

The Claims Conference negotiators also took a different tack this year, he said. In the past, the negotiation team concentrated on the individual issues, or gaps in eligibility, it wanted to address. This time, negotiators started with the big picture. With the youngest Holocaust survivors now in their 70s, the two parties are at “the beginning of the end” of the 70-year reparations program, and that they should end it with the momentum they had at the start.

One-third of survivors in the United States live in poverty, according to CNN.

“Everyone felt an added sense of urgency to make sure we do everything possible for people who suffered so grievously to age with dignity,” Eizenstat said.

The Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA criticized the agreement, according to the Jerusalem Post.

“Once again, the Claims Conference announcement of their so-called negotiations will mean little to thousands of survivors in dire need of serious health care, mental health care and all the rest of the services they currently are deprived of,” the organization stated.

The Claims Conference was established after World War II to ensure compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. They meet for negotiations once a year, although there are several informal meetings during the year.

Last year, the Claims Conference secured nearly $500 million dollars in additional funding for health care over two years, the largest one-time increase in healthcare funding, and raised the cap of hours survivors could receive in-home care from 25 to 40.

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