United States denies survivor funds because she wasnt sent to a camp

NEW YORK — After more than five decades, a window of opportunity finally opened for Holocaust survivor Edith Golden.

Then it shut.

After a 1995 U.S. court ruling awarded Hugo Princz and 10 other Americans imprisoned by the Nazis in concentration camps some $2.1 million, Golden figured that she, too, would finally receive some compensation for her and her family's sufferings during World War II, when they endured the worst pogrom in Romania's history.

As part of the Princz settlement, the U.S. government established the Holocaust Claims Program, allowing American citizens who suffered at the hands of the Nazis to file for restitution.

The State Department recently sent letters to those whose claims were approved — and Germany has promised it will make payments before the end of the year.

Roughly 230 people were accepted, according to Steven Perles, an attorney representing Holocaust survivors seeking claims.

Golden is not among them.

She was denied compensation because she was not in a concentration camp or ghetto during the war. Unless a new law is passed, it is unlikely that she and her sister will ever receive compensation.

Golden's case sheds light on the difficulties that can arise when distinctions are drawn between levels of suffering — even when the countries involved appear to be making a good-faith effort to provide compensation.

Golden was born in Iasi, Romania, in 1928. Her Romanian-born father moved to the United States as a young boy to join his brother. After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War I, he returned to his native land for a visit — and married a local woman.

Though her father wanted to return to the United States, the Great Depression kept him away.

As anti-Semitism began to spread across Romania, Golden remembers demonstrations and beatings on the streets, curfews and separate air raid shelters for Jews.

The segregated bunkers became significant on June 29, 1941. As Golden remembers it:

"They called a false air raid and we went to the shelter. No sooner did we get there than some Germans came and pulled us out of the shelter and began shouting at us and poking at us with bayonets."

Golden and her sister, mother and father were lined up with Jews from across the town and marched to the police courtyard.

On the way, Golden says, her mother was beaten to paralysis and her father's head split open with the butt of a rifle. In the courtyard, they were forced to lie three people on top of each other while German officers and Romanians shot at them from the roof of the police station.

After several hours, the men were taken off and put in cattle cars. Golden never saw her father again. He was among an estimated 13,000 Jews who died in the Iasi pogrom, according to Radu Ioanid, a historian who specializes in the Holocaust in Romania.

"This was one of the major, major killing operations in World War II," said Ioanid, the associate director of the international programs division at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Though Golden, her sister and mother were able to return to their apartment, over the next three years they were forced to sell most of their possessions — including her mother's gold teeth — to buy the food necessary to survive.

At night, when the German soldiers made their roundups, she and her sister hid in a nearby garbage container.

By the time the town was liberated by the Soviet army in 1944, Golden suffered from severe rashes and malnutrition, and had lost most of her teeth.

After her mother died at the end of the war, she and her sister, then teenagers, made their way to New York with the help of an uncle.

In the United States, Golden earned her high-school diploma and married a World War II veteran. They married in 1949 and have two children.

She worked at several jobs, retiring in 1989 from the U.S. Postal Service.

But her harrowing wartime experiences have stayed with the diminutive Golden, who says she has nightmares at least once a week.

She continues to battle for compensation. She applied to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Since her father had served in the military, she tried the Veterans Administration. She wrote to several senators and members of Congress.

After the decision in the Princz case was announced, she called William Marks, a Washington lawyer and one of Princz's attorneys. Marks agreed to represent Golden, her sister and a friend who has since passed away.

The three were among the more than 2,000 people who presented their cases to a Justice Department commission. To receive compensation, Golden believed she had to prove that she was an American citizen during the war and that she had experienced suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

But Golden's claim was denied because the commission had ruled in a 1997 "final decision" that only those American citizens who suffered in a concentration camp or subcamp, forced labor march or were interned in a ghetto or camp in the region of Transnistria were eligible for funds from the Holocaust Claims Program.

In other words, says Ioanid, Golden's bid for compensation was turned down because there were no ghettos in most of Romania.

Golden wonders why. "What's the difference where they beat you? What's the difference where they starved you? What's the difference where they shot at you?"