Swiss checks may go out soon

WASHINGTON — Five months after Switzerland agreed to establish a memorial fund to benefit needy Holocaust survivors, a picture has begun to emerge of what the actual payments would look like.

The good news: Holocaust survivors may begin receiving checks as early as September.

The bad news: Payments may fall short of expectations.

Meeting in Jerusalem this week, representatives of the World Jewish Restitution Organization established a committee to report within a month on how to distribute the fund set up by Switzerland's three leading banks in January.

Although the WJRO did not announce any formal decisions about how the fund would be distributed, representatives said privately that eligibility will be determined by objective measures of need, rather than on subjective notions of suffering.

The WJRO is headed by World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman and includes the Jewish Agency for Israel and other international Jewish groups.

Officials stressed that they do not plan to get into the business of quantifying suffering or engaging in a selection process that distinguishes, for example, between survivors of concentration camps and ghettos or those who fled persecution.

One Jewish official close to the decision-making process said the WJRO would likely limit distributions to survivors whose incomes are below the poverty line.

Based on that criteria, payments ranging from $500 to $1,000 may be disbursed to between 300,000 and 400,000 Holocaust survivors as early as September, the official said.

The top priority, officials decided this week, will be securing aid for survivors in former communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe — the so-called "double victims" who never received reparations from the German government.

The WJRO also agreed that, at least to begin with, the fund should be distributed to individuals, rather than organizations or projects that deal with survivors.

During the next month, the WJRO committee will dispatch task forces to gather data on the conditions facing Holocaust survivors in Europe, Israel and the West. These task forces will then make recommendations concerning allocations.