Czech Jews finally get Holocaust reparation checks

PRAGUE — Eduard Belas spent three years during World War II in labor and concentration camps in Slovakia.

Now, with money from a joint Czech-German fund for victims of Nazism, Belas, 78, believes that "our suffering has been acknowledged to some degree."

The fund was established in January 1997 by the two governments.

After months of delays, which sparked a series of protests by the country's aging survivors, the fund's officials have began issuing payments to 6,200 victims of Nazism, Jews and non-Jews. An additional 300 victims are expected to start receiving payments next month.

Approximately 2,000 of the recipients are Jewish.

The German-Czech declaration establishing the fund, which was in negotiation for almost two years, was intended to ease long-standing tensions rooted in Germany's wartime occupation of Czech lands and the subsequent deportation of Sudeten Germans from postwar Czechoslovakia.

Jewish leaders complained at the time of the pact's signing that Germany did not comment on the Holocaust in the declaration, which stated that Germany "regrets the suffering and iniquities inflicted on the Czech people."

The fund, which was originally to be used for communal projects, was created with some $76 million from Germany and about $12.9 million from the Czech government.

"The money will be a great help to these people because some of them have very modest pensions," said Oldrich Stransky, chairman of the Association of Former Political Prisoners. "Now they can live the rest of their lives with some dignity."

Those imprisoned up to 12 months will receive some $900 each year, those imprisoned between 12 and 30 months will receive about $1,100, and those imprisoned longer than 30 months will receive about $1,400. All of the payments will be made annually.

Fund officials describe the annual payments as humanitarian aid, saying that the money is intended to help victims with health and social needs.

For his part, Belas said he would use some of the money to subsidize his wife's spinal operation. He said he also plans to use some of the money to purchase a new sofa — and will add the rest to his savings.

"I am glad we are receiving the money," he said.