Time is running out for survivors of Nazi ghettos to apply for retroactive German pensions, a German advocacy group warned.
Applications received after June 30 will not be eligible for payments going back to 1997, according to Lothar Evers, director of the German Association for Information and Support to Survivors of Nazi Persecution. The German government does not plan to extend the deadline. Later applicants, though, still may be eligible for a regular pension, but not for back payments.
Evers' group and its sister organization in the United States introduced a telephone hotline this week to help potential applicants. The organizations said a simple letter of application is sufficient to meet the deadline. U.S. and Canadian applicants should write to LVA Hamburg, Uberseering 10, 22297 Hamburg, Germany.
The letter should include basic details, such as the applicant's name, age, place of birth, location, period of time in the ghetto and the job he or she did there.
Evers said the German government has not done its part to inform survivors around the world of the deadline. He said his group is trying to reach Jewish organizations in Eastern Europe that are least likely to be aware of the date. Meanwhile, Volker Beck, a German legislator from the Green Party, has been pressuring Germany's Ministry for Health and Social Security to extend the deadline, but so far has had no success.
"We noticed that hardly anyone had applied, and we think it is because this deadline is not known," Beck explained. He said he had been waiting several weeks for an answer.
Elisabeth Von der Linde, a Health Ministry spokeswoman, said Minister Ulla Schmid did not plan to grant an extension. Von der Linde also said no broad information campaign had been mounted, because the number of eligible applicants is believed to be "very small" -- though she said there are no hard numbers.
Applicants who apply too late to obtain retroactive payments may be eligible for monthly pensions that are "up to 36 percent higher" than normal, Von der Linde said.
Those who worked in ghettos, as well as the widows and widowers of such survivors, are eligible for the pensions, even if they already have received compensation from the German government and industry fund for slave laborers or from the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, according to the Maryland-based Support for Survivors of Nazi Persecution International, which works with Evers' group.
The pension payment is not for forced labor, but the definition of voluntary labor is complicated, because of the conditions that existed in the ghettoes, said Christine Reeh, a consulting attorney for the Claims Conference in Germany and Europe, who has authored a handbook on applying for the pensions. The handbook can be downloaded from www.claimscon.org.
"People say, 'We were guarded and we were forced in and out of the ghetto, but the work, itself, was voluntary,'" Reeh said. "Everyone who worked in a ghetto should just write, just to meet the deadline."
However, she said, potential applicants should "look for legal advice" before filing the formal application.
Some applicants already have received lump-sum back payments of up to 20,000 euros, Evers said. Late applicants will be eligible for payments of more than $250 a month but only from the time their petitions are received, he explained.
Evers said he found it surprising that some Germans ask why they still have to pay pensions to Holocaust survivors, "but nobody asks this question when it comes to S.S. soldiers and their widows. We are still paying for hundreds of thousands of them."
"I personally think, when it comes to the concentration camps and the Holocaust and the organized killing, that Germany is responsible for the dignified aging of the survivor population," he said.
In the United States, the telephone hotline is (800) 467-0191. Background in English is also available at the group's Web site, www.survivors-international.org .
Evers' organization can also provide information by calling overseas to 011-49 221-179294-18.