Virtually all Jews locked up in concentration camps, ghettos and similar places of incarceration during the Holocaust may now apply for compensation from a newly created $5 billion German foundation. And on Feb. 5, the names of 21,000 probable Holocaust victims whose dormant accounts still sit in Swiss banks were posted on the Internet.
These two efforts are the first major attempts to see that survivors and their heirs begin to realize the fruits of talks that started with Swiss negotiations five years ago. The Swiss negotiations resulted in a court-approved $1.25 billion fund being established, 80 percent of which has been set aside to pay the heirs of those who had money in bank accounts the Swiss hoarded.
While applauding steps to begin the distribution, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said he was "appalled that the total going to lawyers is on the order of $100 million from both of these funds." The figure was either negotiated or court ordered and represents a fraction of the total.
Survivors and their heirs are asked to complete applications if they believe they qualify for money from either fund. Applications can be downloaded from the Internet or obtained from toll-free numbers and at several locations in greater Los Angeles (see box, below).
As many as 170,000 Jewish survivors worldwide are expected to apply for the German money, which is designed to compensate slave and forced laborers. Those who were slave laborers may receive up to $7,500, forced laborers up to $2,500.
As part of Hitler's Final Solution, Jews were forced to perform labor under the harshest of conditions as one way of exterminating the Jews of Europe. Therefore, all those thrown into concentration camps, ghettos and other areas of confinement are considered former slave laborers and thus entitled to compensation. Forced laborers are those who were made to work in areas under Nazi or Axis occupation during World War II under conditions not included in the definition of a slave laborer.
Claims will be accepted from former slave or forced laborers except those currently residing in Poland, the Czech Republic and other former Communist nations. Their respective national foundations will process their claims. Certain heirs of former laborers who died on or since Feb. 16 are also eligible.
Those who received previous payments from a private German industry fund for slave and/or forced labor will have such payments deducted from the amount they will now receive. This fund is independent of other funds and requires new applications. Payments will be made in two stages, with the second amount dependent on the number of people who apply. Applications must be filed by Aug. 11.
To obtain an application to apply for money under this fund, call (800) 697-6064 or go to the Web site www.claimscon.org. Information is available on the Web site in seven languages.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany will help administer the fund. It estimates that as many as 50,000 survivors in the United States and Canada are eligible for the money.
"Nothing can make whole again the horrors during the Third Reich," said Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Claims Conference. "But survivors have received some justice through Germany's recognition of its moral obligation to create this fund."
Half of the foundation's money will come from the German government and the rest from more than 5,000 of the country's businesses, including Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz, Bayer and Siemens. Most German industry and business benefited from slave or forced labor during the Holocaust.
In the Swiss case, applications for those who believe they are heirs of Holocaust victims whose money still sits in Swiss banks are available. To obtain an application form, call (800) 881-2736, or visit one of the following Web sites: www.dormantaccounts.ch, www.crt-ii.org or www.swissbankclaims.com.
Although 26,000 names were to be posted, Michael Bradfield, a special master appointed by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Edward Korman, said the number was reduced to 21,000 because of a duplication of names. He said a special team of auditors headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker found that there were 36,000 dormant accounts probably opened by Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. But in a compromise with Swiss banks, only 21,000 will be posted.
Bradfield said that anyone who believes he or she is the heir of a Holocaust victim who had a Swiss account should complete the application form whether or not the victim's name is posted on the Internet. Even those who paid a Swiss ombudsman to search Swiss bank records and were told no account existed should apply.
"The ombudsman didn't look where [the auditors] looked," said Bradfield. "We have a lot of accounts that were closed that the ombudsman never looked at."
He stressed that the entire process is free, and there is no need to hire a lawyer. The deadline for filing applications is in six months; Bradfield said he expected 100,000 claims to be filed. He said it is expected to take two years to review and act on each application and that every filing will be acknowledged. Once a determination is made, a letter will be sent explaining the disposition. Under Swiss law, the names can be kept confidential, but the dollar amounts will be made public.
Those applying for dormant funds will be asked to provide "plausible information to demonstrate that they have a legitimate relationship [to the person on the list] and that they would be the heir under normal inheritance laws," Bradfield said. "We are looking for plausible evidence, taking into account the destruction of documents, the disruption of the war and horrible persecution."
These local agencies are offering applications for payments from the fund for slave and forced laborers:
Los Angeles (310) 271-3306; (323) 937-5900 Valley (818) 984-1380 West Hollywood (323) 851-8202
Santa Monica (310) 393-0732 Bet Tzedek: (323) 549-5883 Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: (323) 761-8170