Germany offers one of the largest Holocaust reparations packages, and a special fund for Ukrainians

BERLIN — Germany agreed to one of its largest financial reparations packages ever for the world’s remaining Jewish Holocaust survivors on Thursday — including a 12 million euro ($12 million) emergency fund for 8,500 survivors who remain in war-torn Ukraine.

The entire package is worth a total of $1.2 billion and will be disbursed next year,mostly to help cover health care costs of an aging and dwindling population of survivors. It will also for the first time fund Holocaust remembrance education, according to the Conference onJewish Material Claims, the negotiating body for reparations.

“Seventy years later, we still stand in the shadow of the six million murdered Jews,” Gideon Taylor, the president of the claims conference, said on Thursday at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement in Berlin. “Their suffering still haunts the Jewish people and the German people.”

Germany signed its first Holocaust reparations, the Luxembourg Agreement, with Israel in 1952, and has since then agreed to around 80 billion euros in payments negotiated with the claims conference, which has also pushed to expand the scope of compensation from those interned in concentration camps to those who survived ghettos, as well as to those who were small children during Nazi occupation.

Eva Umlauf,who was liberated from Auschwitz as a toddler, told the audience at the commemorative ceremony that she still struggled with trauma from the early experiences of her life, particularly the loss of her father, who perished during a death march from the camp.“Every day is different,” she said. “Some are lighter, some are heavier.”

Nahum Goldmann, president of the Jewish claims commission, center, signing the agreement between Germany and Israel during a ceremony in Luxembourg on Sept. 10, 1952.Credit…Associated Press

The funds are “income tested,” according to negotiators, meaning they go only to the neediest among the world’s estimated 280,000 remaining Holocaust survivors. More than 80 percent of survivors in Eastern Europe were considered near or below the poverty line.

Negotiators said the decision to offer special funds for Ukrainians was inspired by conversations with older survivors evacuated from Ukraine under harrowing circumstances in the wake of Russia’s invasion in February. It is not the first time that Germany has given special payments — it also offered special disbursements to Holocaust survivors during the pandemic to cover vaccinations and other health care needs.

In the past year, the claims conference and Germany funded a special operation with Jewish rescue groups to evacuate Holocaust survivors trapped inside Ukraine amid the invasion.

Stuart Eizenstat, a former United States ambassador to the European Union and the lead reparations negotiator, described speaking in Berlin with nonagenarian Ukrainian women in May, a day before he began talks with German officials. The women had been brought to Germany on the day before the latest rounds of compensation talks began. They had endured a 42-hour ambulance ride to reach Germany, he said, and one feared that she was too frail to ever return to her country.

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“The lady next to her said, ‘I would love to go back, but I don’t have a family to go to. They were all killed in the Holocaust, and now my village has been destroyed by the Russians,’” he recalled.

“That’s why these funds are so important,” he added. “These are people who suffered the greatest indignities as youth, and we have to do everything we can to make sure they live with as much dignity as possible.”

The claims conference has over the years also pushed Germany to actually increase its reparations, arguing that although fewer survivors remain, their medical needs are greater. Mr. Eizenstat said the yearly amount that has gone to care of seniors has risen to 626 million euros this year, from 34 million euros in 2009, the year he began leading negotiations.

Germany’s reparations agreement, he added, was the first ever by a defeated nation to individual victims. Yet the original deal was fraught, with many Holocaust survivors in Israel refusing the money and insisting that amends could not be made.

A Ukrainian refugee in Moldova in March. Negotiators said the decision to offer special funds for Ukrainians was inspired by conversations with older survivors evacuated from Ukraine.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

“There was total silence for 12 minutes during that first signing ceremony,” said Mr. Taylor, of the original Luxembourg Agreement. “We have come a long way.”

Colette Avital, a child survivor who fled the Nazi occupation of Bucharest, Romania, with her family, recalled the uproar the reparations agreement caused in her adopted city of Jerusalem. “My parents never wanted to receive reparations, to the last of their days,” she said.

But Ms. Avital, a former member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, said Israelis’ and many survivors’ views of reparations and of Germany’s efforts have shifted over the decades.

For many survivors she now works with, she said, the biggest concern was not financial aid. “They ask how we will remember — and what we will remember,” she said. “What is the moral message we want to carry?”

Such concerns were what drove the push for an agreement on Holocaust education funding, negotiators said. Germany will pay 100 million euros over four years for education programs. Claims conference officials said the funds were more necessary than ever after a 2020 survey indicated that nearly two-thirds of young Americans were unaware that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and almost a quarter said the Holocaust was a myth.

Mr. Eizenstat said that he was, in contrast, always struck by Germans’ embrace of what many described as their historic responsibility, noting that he now works with German negotiators in their 30s and 40s with no living connection to World War II.

“I don’t see Holocaust fatigue, though I’m always looking over my shoulder to see if this will be the year it happens,” he said. “I think the 70th anniversary will not be a closing of the door. I think that Germany will continue this process until the last survivor passes from this earth.”

Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner, said at Thursday’s ceremony that this would not be the last that time his country marked the anniversary of its first reparations. “I am sure there will be a 160th anniversary as well,” he said.

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