After six decades of negotiations with Germany, the Claims Conference (full title: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) has reached a $300 million deal that will cover what may be the last group of Holocaust survivors who have yet to receive any compensation for their wartime suffering: 80,000 Jews who fled east into what became the Soviet bloc countries and spent their lives there. “With the additional 80,000 people, virtually every single survivor in the world will have gotten something,” said Stuart Eizenstat, a former Secretary of State for Holocaust-Era Issues who is the Conference’s chief negotiator.
Eizenstat spoke with Tablet Magazine last night before an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington commemorating the 60th anniversary of the landmark Luxembourg Agreement, which paved the way for the more than $60 billion in reparations that have been paid to Jews around the world. The latest understanding comes on the heels of negotiations in New York last year that established a structure for providing home care for elderly survivors, a program Eizenstat hopes can be expanded in future rounds of negotiations over benefits for the estimated 500,000 survivors who are still alive.
“I am absolutely certain that the Germans are prepared to see this to the very end, to the last survivor,” said Eizenstat, who also served as ambassador to the European Union under President Clinton. “It’s not contingent on economic circumstances in Germany,” Eizenstat added. “If it were, we’d never have gotten this kind of agreement at a time of economic crisis in Europe and great strain in Germany.”
The new agreement qualifies residents of the former Soviet Union countries for one-time payments of more than $3,000. It also guarantees an increase in monthly pension payments to 20,000 survivors living in the former Soviet bloc to match the approximately $365 survivors living in Western countries receive, and reduces the amount of time applicants have to have been living in hiding to qualify for pensions from one year to six months.
The negotiations took place after the German delegation, led by Finance Ministry State Secretary Werner Gatzer, took a two-hour tour of the Holocaust Museum—a program designed, just like a similar expedition to visit elderly survivors in New York last year, to make sure the discussions weren’t “just an intellectual exercise,” as Eizenstat put it. “We wanted them to see the Holocaust as history, as no museum other than Yad Vashem can do.”
And, not incidentally, those institutions point to a future for the Claims Conference long after every survivor has been cared for. “My feeling is that Hitler wanted a Thousand Year Reich, so there should be a thousand-year program of remembrance for the thousand-year history of European Jewry,” Eizenstat said, before leaving to deliver his formal remarks.
Related: Claims Conference Pension Amounts Equalized [Claims Conference]
80,000 Former USSR Nazi Victims to Get Compensation [Times of Israel]