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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Claims Conference Has Failed Holocaust Survivors

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For the sake of those who survived the Holocaust, the Claims Conference must thoroughly clean house
For the sake of those who survived the Holocaust, the Claims Conference must thoroughly clean house
As the Jewish Voice reported the other week, a long-unfolding scandal concerning the massive diversion of Claims Conference funds – intended for needy Holocaust survivors – has finally come to its sad conclusion. In the latest chapter of this pathetic saga, three individuals (including a senior manager) who had been entrusted to appropriately process the millions of dollars paid by Germany and other heirs of Nazi tyranny as restitution for horrendous crimes committed against the Jewish people, betrayed that sacred trust by pilfering the funds for themselves. Altogether, a grand total of 31 people have been convicted for playing a role in the gigantic ripoff scheme that extended for an incredible period of 15-plus years. Making a bad situation much worse, there appears to be ample evidence that the higher-ups at the Claims Conference did not perform their due diligence and take the proper action to stem what ended up being a mind-boggling $57 million fraud.

As we reported, Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, said, “To have it all come to closure is extraordinarily important. We’re obviously very happy that justice has been served, but focus on the needs of Holocaust survivors has always been our main priority.”

Well, Greg Schneider can say whatever he wants, but as far as many seasoned observers of the Jewish world are concerned – the Jewish Voice among them – this organization has failed numerous Holocaust survivors in particular, and the Jewish community in general.

We must ask the tough questions here: Where was the supposedly fail-safe system of regulation and oversight of funds processing that one would have expected the Claims Conference to have in place? Why didn’t the top officials at the organization take notice as soon as something appeared amiss and take immediate steps to remediate the potentially disastrous misappropriation of funds?

As veteran commentator Isi Leibler notes in a scathing condemnation of the Claims Conference’s lack of action, “This latest scandal was only exposed due to a fortuitous exchange between the defense and prosecution in the course of the trial of the Claims Conference manager convicted as the ringleader of the fraud. Otherwise, to this day we would have been unaware that the senior members of the Claims Conference management had been warned of the nature of the scam in an anonymous 2001 letter, but had failed to effectively follow up.”

Furthermore, several spokespeople for the organization ended up flagrantly placing the blame for management’s failure here on a since-deceased director in the Berlin office, shifting the onus away from the primary New York office, and onto someone who could not defend himself. Taking the scandal to even more shocking heights – or depths, as the case may be – the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has just revealed that Claims Conference bigwig Julius Berman was made totally aware of the fraud allegations in 2001, and was thus stating a blatant lie when he informed members of the board that he first learned of the scheme when Schneider told him about it much later on.

Let’s remember the bottom line regarding this sordid case. We so often hear about elderly Holocaust survivors languishing in poverty, unable to afford enough food and medical care to live a basically healthy life, and barely able to pay their rent. The Claims Conference was established to ensure that such things would not happen, that our beloved relatives and neighbors who endured unimaginable suffering in their younger years would be able to live out their remaining time on earth in relative peace and dignity. But the organization has proven itself shockingly incapable of carrying out its obligations, and has allowed millions of desperately-needed dollars to slip through its hands.

The Jewish Voice is calling for the immediate resignation – or ouster – of Julius Berman as organizational counsel, as well as the dismissal of the other high-level officials whose negligence allowed such a major scandal to happen. We are further imploring the board of directors of the Claims Conference to conduct a thorough overhaul of its accounting, applications and review procedures, to guarantee as much as possible that this unprecedented communal thievery will not occur again.

All of this must be done for the sake of their organization…for the honor of the community…and most importantly of all, for the sake of Holocaust survivors who deserve no less.

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