Former prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at an International Holocaust Remembrance day event at the former camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Jan. 27, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Damian Klamka-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)
Former prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at an International Holocaust Remembrance day event at the former camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Jan. 27, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Damian Klamka-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)

Record Claims Conference payout to help Bay Area Holocaust survivors

For seven decades, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an organization that advocates on behalf of world Jewry for restitution for the crimes of the Holocaust, holds annual negotiations with Germany to provide funding that goes to agencies around the globe.

In recent years, the German government’s payouts — which largely go to organizations that care for and support frail and vulnerable Holocaust survivors have grown significantly larger as survivors’ needs increase with age. 

On Wednesday, the Claims Conference announced it had secured its largest, single-year welfare allocation ever $720 million which will go to more than 300 agencies worldwide.

San Francisco–based Jewish Family and Children’s Services received $7.3 million, the ninth-largest grant provided to agencies in the United States. Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay, headquartered in Berkeley, received $1.5 million.

Anita Friedman
Anita Friedman

“The Claims Conference is absolutely critical,” said Anita Friedman, executive director of S.F.-based JFCS, which supports some 1,000 survivors across Northern California with a range of services that include financial support, home care, meals, medicine, hearing aids,  transportation and social programs. “They’ve been very sensitive to the needs of the survivors as they age. But we still have to raise money from other sources because there are too many survivors who need very expensive services.”

Traci Dobronravova, director of the Seniors at Home program at S.F.-based JFCS, noted that the grant money from the Claims Conference represents a sizable portion of the annual budget, though most of the agency’s services are funded through private donations.

The organization’s biggest expense for survivors, she said, comes from home-care programs that sometimes include an around-the-clock personal caregiver. JFCS wants to expand its services that provide home care, food, medicine and social programs for survivors, she added, but the Claims Conference money alone won’t do the trick.

“We’re supportive of the additional funding. We think it’s great that they were able to negotiate that,” Dobronravova said. “But there’s still a need” for a great deal more private donations.

Last year, approximately 120,000 Holocaust survivors from around the world received some subsidized services through the Claims Conference negotiated allocation. The number of survivors, most in their mid-80s, is sharply decreasing, but “for those that remain alive, the needs grow,” said Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference executive vice president.

He expects that over the next two years the funding from Germany will “reach a peak,” and “the mortality rate will be so high that it will overtake the increasing needs.”

Schneider said the 120,000 survivors known to the Claims Conference are not the total number of living survivors, and he hopes continued outreach efforts enable more of them to receive care from the network of Jewish family service organizations.

“Even if they don’t need help, they should come forward and be part of the system. Because if something happens to them … it’s always helpful to already be part of the system,” Schneider said.

The Claims Conference has been negotiating compensation with the German government since 1951 for the suffering and loss caused by Nazi persecution before and during World War II. Since 1952, Germany reportedly has paid out more than $90 billion through the Claims Conference, which distributed $653 million in grants in 2021. This year’s top three grantees are the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, New York ($36.2 million), Selfhelp Community Services in New York City ($30.7 million) and Goodman Jewish Family Services in Broward County, Florida ($23.1 million). Seven California agencies received grants, including $18.7 million for Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles.

The money pays for a wide range of care that’s unique to each survivor’s needs. Jewish family service organizations across the United States, and similar organizations internationally, pay for case managers to meet with survivors individually and assess how they can best support them.

“The idea is to treat each survivor like your own grandmother,” Schneider said. “It’s like a loving embrace around the survivor, that might be literal, but certainly figurative. We know that you suffered unimaginably in your youth, you were abandoned, and we will never let that happen again.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.