For Holocaust survivors, the concept of compensating them for what happened during the war is implausible and unthinkable. Yet, the reality is that these elderly, frail and often impoverished survivors could enhance their quality of life with even nominal financial compensation. A new claims program from Germany aims to do just that.
The Ghetto Labor Compensation Fund was established by the German government in 2007 to make funds available to individuals not eligible under previous reparation plans. These ghetto workers could be eligible to receive a one-time lump sum payment of 2,000 Euros, or around $3,000.
governmant estimates that approximately 50,000 survivors around the world are eligible for this fund
The German government estimates that approximately 50,000 survivors around the world are eligible for this fund. About 20,000 of the 50,000 live here in the United States. To this end, Jewish organizations around the country have been alerting former ghetto workers of the opportunity to file claims.
Bet Tzedek, a legal services provider based in Los Angeles, came up with the idea of a national program which would utilize local law firms to coordinate workshops to process claims. Those firms would work with other local attorneys to identity survivors and help them apply to the program. DLA Piper came on board with the German Ghetto Workers Program (GGWP) last year. The GGWP was initiated in several major cities around the country, the largest of which was in Washington, DC.
“That is how I got involved,” says Melissa A. Hearn, Esq., an associate in DLA Piper’s DC office. “The GGWP had sort of run its course in DC, so we began looking at Baltimore to see if it had been fully served and whether or not there was additional work to be done.”
Working in conjunction with the Baltimore-based Jewish Community Services and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 900 survivors were identified in the greater Baltimore area. Fliers were mailed out notifying them of the existence of this fund and offering help with the application. To date, the program has received between 40 and 50 intake calls from area survivors and appointments are currently being set up. Jewish Legal Services is involved as well, and is looking for volunteer lawyers to work with the applicants, following some initial training.
As of yet, the German government has not set a deadline for completion of the applications. However, that does not negate the need to get these applications completed quickly. The targeted population is, quite literally, a dying breed.
According to Hearn, there have been close to 40,000 applications filed so far. As such, “they have a big backlog processing the claims and getting the money to the survivors,” Hearn says. “It’s critical to get to the applications in because the survivor must be alive when the application is submitted. If they subsequently pass away payment can be made to their heirs.”
The two-hour training will take place in a brown-bag forum at DLA Piper’s Mt. Washington office on Tuesday, March 3, 2009, from noon until 2:00 p.m. During that time, the application will be reviewed in depth and volunteers instructed in the skills needed to elicit the information necessary to complete the application. No prior knowledge is necessary, just the sensitivity and understanding that this is a very painful memory are needed to help the survivors get through the process.
A workshop is scheduled for the following Tuesday, March 11, at the Jewish Community Services building at 5750 Park Heights Avenue. Interviews will be set up in the morning and afternoon. The application is computerized so the form can be filled out on a laptop as the interview progresses. The average interview lasts anywhere from two to four hours.
“The length of the interview varies from survivor to survivor,” says Hearn. “The challenge comes in getting these amazing, harsh, difficult stories into the six-page form, but the effort is outweighed by their appreciation.”
Hearn adds how wonderful it is that every survivor she has interviewed has been so grateful for the opportunity to tell their story. For them, it was important for one more person to know what they went through, what they survived.
“It’s intense and draining.” admits Hearn. “On the days I conduct an interview I’m usually not good for much else when I get home. But as an attorney, it can be some of the best work you will ever do.”
To register for the German Ghetto Workers Program training and workshop, please contact Jon Moseley at the Pro Bono Resource Center by phone at (410) 837-9379 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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John Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.