A representative of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany told some 50 Holocaust survivors on March 8 they may be entitled to benefits they have not been receiving — or even been made aware of.
Some 25 of them approached Deb Kram, the Claims Conference’s client outreach manager, after her 10-minute speech to ask whether they are entitled to compensation.
Kram spoke at a luncheon meeting of the Lore Ross Cafe Europa, a 15-year-old program funded by the Wilf Family Foundation and and the Claims Conference, that was run by the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
“It is really meaningful to impact their lives in a positive way,” Kram told NJ Jewish News after the meeting. “We recognize that no amount of money can make up for what was lost, but we want to make sure they have awareness of whatever funds are available.”
Speaking in the social hall of Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, Kram recited a litany of new compensation programs offered to survivors of ghettoes, concentration camps, and other atrocities of the Nazi era. “I like to call myself a wandering Jew,” she said. “My job is to be in different parts of the country and all across Canada, wherever there are survivor groups,” to increase awareness of available resources.
One such resource she described is the Child Survivor Fund, which is open to victims who were held in ghettos or concentration camps, hid or lived under false identity for at least six months in Nazi-occupied areas, or were in utero when their mothers were being persecuted.
The eligible child survivors are entitled to one-time payments of 2,500 euros ($2,700); some 500 people in New Jersey have received the benefit since the program began last year.
But there is a catch. To be eligible, a survivor must have been born after Dec. 31, 1927. Gina Lanceter of Montclair, who was at the meeting, told Kram she was born on Nov. 28, 1927, making her one month too old to qualify to receive payment from the fund. According to Kram, “Germany argued it was not going to change the date because this is the date the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants had chosen.”
“I know that,” said Lanceter, who was a child survivor of the ghetto in Brody, Poland. “I just wanted to get it off my chest.”
“We are always in conversation trying to broaden our eligibility,” Kram assured her. “However, right now it stands at Jan. 1, 1928. There is not much wiggle room here.”
But, Kram told Lanceter, “I am going to share your story with people in my office and I’ll make sure the lawyers are aware there is yet somebody else who faces this issue.
“Everything is about negotiation,” Kram said. “We are constantly trying to make it a broader category. The story isn’t over yet.”
Another program, the Hardship Fund, awards one-time payments of $2,814 to those who were deprived of their liberty, fled from the Nazis, or were restricted by curfews or forced to register as Jews. Sixty-nine New Jerseyans received such payments in 2015.
Sol Spierer, a resident of the Lester Senior Housing Community on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, said he might be eligible for benefits from this fund.
“I never got a penny from the Claims Conference,” he told NJ Jewish News. He said his father was jailed in Soviet-occupied Poland during World War II, while he and the rest of his family were sent to a Siberian labor camp for six years.
Spierer consulted with Kram. “She told me I may have a chance to get a one-time payment under the Hardship Fund,” he said. “She will send me an application and we’ll see.”
Another survivor who may be entitled to hardship funds is Fred Heyman, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Morristown.
Many others in Heyman’s extended family perished in concentration camps, but Catholic rescuers defied the Nazis to shelter his immediate family during the war. He and his parents immigrated to Milwaukee in 1946.
“You are probably eligible for this,” Kram said. “You were deprived of liberty, you fled to the United States, and you might qualify, so my office will mail you an application.”
Symbol of compensation
In recent years, a program called the Article 2 Fund has liberalized eligibility requirements relating to length of time a survivor was in a ghetto or in hiding and raised income limits for survivors’ pension benefits. In New Jersey, 694 people were compensated by this fund in 2015.
In 2013, the Claims Conference negotiated an increase in the income limit for applicants from $16,000 to $25,000 as of July 1, 2013. The German government also agreed to include survivors of certain “open ghettos” in the program as of Jan. 1, 2014.
In addition, Kram spoke of two programs that the Claims Conference helped to negotiate but that are not under its jurisdiction.
One is the U.S.-France Agreement on Compensation, which provides awards to non-French citizens who were deported from France via its railroads, then “sent to concentration camps in the belly of the beast,” said Kram.
The other is a monthly pension from the Polish government for Jews who suffered under its oppression during World War II.
Although she described its application process as “very cumbersome,” Kram urged her listeners “not to lose hope and continue to apply for it.”
Ruth Ravina of Montclair, who was born in Poland in 1937, said she wanted compensation for a symbolic reason.
“We had a very comfortable life until the Nazis came in, and then everything changed,” she told NJJN. Her family was herded into the ghetto “and people started disappearing.” She was incarcerated in three different camps until her liberation in 1945 by Russian troops.
Ravina said she had “never ever applied for anything.” But, Kram told her, she could be entitled to a one-time payment from the Child Survivor Fund.
“I don’t have need,” she responded. “But I could use it to help one of my seven grandchildren with college tuition or give it away to charity.
“I would rather do that than have the Germans keep the money.”
To apply for funds or obtain further information, contact the Claims Conference at 646-536-9100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.