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News Archive    Printer Version August 8, 2008   

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Germany mulls probe of Jewish group overseeing Holocaust restitution

Germany mulls probe of Jewish group overseeing Holocaust restitution


Germany mulls probe of Jewish group overseeing Holocaust restitution

By Ofer Aderet

Germany's controller of accounts, an independent federal office which examines the financial workings of the German government, is considering a probe of the policies and actions of the Claims Conference, the Jewish umbrella organization set up for the return of property stolen during Nazi-era Germany and compensation of Holocaust survivors.

The Knesset State Control Committee was to discuss the Claims Conference on Monday, amid a storm of criticism of the organization. The session of the Knesset investigative panel is being held prior to publication of the report of Israel's state inquiry into aid for Holocaust survivors. The Knesset discussion follows the release two months ago of the documentary "The Morality of Payments - The War Continues," broadcast on Channel Two and on the YES cable network, which presented the Claims Conference as a corrupt, rotten and thieving organization.

The barrage of criticism has led of late to talk of the organization's demise. At the beginning of the month, the German weekly newspaper Der Spiegel published an expose on the policies of the organization. The article ended with the following statement: "The Claims Conference appears to be a business firm holding property worth millions of dollars, and not like an organization that is devoted to protecting the rights of others." Criticism is also mounting against the organization on the part of authorities in Israel. At the beginning of June, a court joined the fray, adding weight to news reports over irregularities in the actions of the Claims Conference.

The court voiced strong criticism of the Claims Conference and required it to pay NIS 14 million to some 1,300 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose rights to a grant from Germany were denied them because of the policies of the Claims Conference. According to the Claims Conference, as a result of its work until now, more than half a million Holocaust survivors in the world have received approximately $60 billion. In addition, more than 600 million euros have been returned to owners whose property was stolen during the Holocaust. Claims Conference figures show that in 2007 the organization gave $387 million to Holocaust survivors and their heirs, $157 million dollars to various programs, including social welfare services for survivors, and $193 million to inheritors to heirs of property from eastern Germany.

Nonetheless, the Claims Conference did not detail the sums that it distributes every year to a long list of institutions, NGO's and other organizations which are not connected to Holocaust survivors or to Holocaust research. They also failed to make reference to the value of the assets under its aegis which were never returned to its owners, nor to the exact sum of liquid assets in their bank accounts. Estimates have placed the value of these assets at more than a billion dollars.

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