Czech Holocaust survivors dubious about compensation

PRAGUE — For Vera Schimmerlingova, the possibility that Germany may finally pay individual compensation to Holocaust survivors in the former Soviet bloc is too little, too late.

"I am sick and tired" of discussions about compensation, said Schimmerlingova, a 72-year-old Czech Jew who survived the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.

"We are all going to die soon anyway. I don't think the German government is really prepared to compensate us."

Her bleak assessment of the situation came after Jewish negotiators failed last week to reach an agreement with Germany on reparations to Holocaust survivors living in Eastern Europe.

Schimmerlingova and other Czech Holocaust survivors are frustrated and angered by Germany's long-standing reluctance to compensate them directly for their wartime suffering.

She is one of some 1,300 Czech Jews who would be eligible for compensation if and when the German government reaches agreement with the Jewish negotiators.

Unable to secure a deal last month, the German government and a delegation of Holocaust survivors and Jewish officials of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany announced the establishment of a joint commission to recommend solutions in three months.

But even if Germany agrees to compensate survivors living in former Soviet-bloc countries, the country will not be as generous with them as it was with survivors living in the West, German officials have said.

This has provoked anger among Jewish leaders here.

"This is the German government's last chance" to compensate Czech Holocaust survivors "because more of them are passing away every month," said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.

"If the German government doesn't meet its responsibilities now, the German state will live in eternal shame."

Among the issues to be negotiated is whether the German government will make a one-time payment or provide pensions to survivors in Eastern Europe.

Israel Singer, the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress who led negotiations for the Claims Conference, has been optimistic that the negotiations will result in pensions. He also described the commission that was created last month as an important development in the long-running effort to seek justice for the so-called "double victims" of World War II.

"They were twice victims — once of Nazism and the second time of Communism," Singer said of Eastern European survivors who never received reparations. "We saw to it today that they will not be a third time victimized."

Friedrich Bohl, the chancellery minister representing the German government in the negotiations, said at a news conference two weeks ago that he was optimistic a solution could be found.

Parliamentary members of the opposition Green Party, who have long urged the government to pay survivors in Eastern Europe reparations similar to those paid to survivors in Western countries, said it was unacceptable to further postpone the decision when survivors are dying every day.

Germany has paid more than $54 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors since World War II.

However, those living in Soviet-bloc countries were unable to apply for compensation during the Cold War, and Communist East Germany refused to make any payments.

The Claims Conference and other Jewish groups are now demanding that these survivors, estimated at between 15,000 and 40,000, be deemed eligible for compensation.

Germany has come under increasing pressure to reach an agreement amid revelations that it is paying pensions to thousands of SS and Nazi police veterans living in Eastern Europe and outside of Germany while refusing to compensate Eastern European Holocaust survivors.

Last year alone, Germany paid 1.1 million veterans and dependents of Nazi Germany's armed forces so-called disability pensions totaling nearly $8 billion, according to recently published figures. The recipients included tens of thousands of suspected war criminals.