February 7, 2008
Shoah survivors apply for ‘voluntary’ ghetto work pay
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Attorneys at Bet Tzedek say that worldwide, the German government expects to receive up to 70,000 applications. Decisions will be issued on a rolling basis, and already claims filed by Bet Tzedek on behalf of six Los Angeles survivors have been approved.
Bet Tzedek is the only Jewish legal services agency offering free assistance with reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries. Currently, the agency is working with Jewish Family Service and other Jewish organizations throughout the United States, offering its clinic as a prototype for processing applications.
While the payments are small and seemingly largely symbolic, many of the survivors desperately need any amount of money. Nationally, of an estimated 130,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, about 25 percent are poverty-stricken, according to a United Jewish Communities Report published in 2003.
In Los Angeles, that translates to approximately 3,000 survivors living on incomes no more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level. In 2007, for a single person, that amounts to $20,420, with no more than $20,000 in savings. For a couple, the number is $27,380, with no more than $30,000 savings. (Figures for 2008 have not yet been released.)
Margulis, for example, receives about $1,000 quarterly from Article 2 of the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. A retired mechanical engineer, he also receives $715 a month from SSI (Supplemental Security Income). His wife receives the same SSI amount.
Still, Margulis dismisses the monetary aspect of this process. Rather, he came here at the urging of Simon Shpitalnik, president of Association of Holocaust Survivors, an organization primarily for Russian-speaking Ã(c)migrÃ(c)s.
Others, like Elizabeth Friedman, formerly Elizabeth Markovitz, have personal motivations.
Born in Brustura, Czechoslovakia, Friedman was 21 and living in Budapest in the summer of 1943, when the Nazis moved all the Jews into ghettos. She found a job with two older Jewish women, cleaning their apartment and taking care of them in exchange for food and shelter.
Friedman lived essentially imprisoned inside the apartment, except during bombing attacks when she assisted the ladies down the stairs and into the shelter and after those attacks, when the Hungarian authorities entered the buildings' courtyard seeking "volunteers" to shovel the resulting rubble.
After being confined for almost a year, Friedman escaped from the ghetto and lived with false papers as a non-Jew. Her parents and four of her five siblings, however, perished.
Friedman received one payment of 2,556 Euros under Article I of the Claims Conference, and is applying for these reparations as a matter of principle.
"It's not easy money," she says. "It hurts to get the money, but why should I leave it to them?"
Holocaust survivors who believe they may be eligible for the Ghetto Work Payment Program can call the Bet Tzedek hotline at (323) 549-5883 or visit www.bettzedek.org
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