Germany has agreed to pay pensions to about 16,000 additional Holocaust victims all over the world after a year of tough negotiations
The agreement between the New York-based Claims Conference and the German government to pay the survivors – mostly those who were once starving children in Nazi ghettos or forced to live in hiding for fear of death – was “not about money – it’s about Germany’s acknowledgement of these people’s suffering”, said Greg Schneider, the conference’s executive vice president.
“They’re finally getting recognition of the horrors they endured as children,” he added.
Of the new beneficiaries, 5,000 live in the United States.
“We will continue to press for greater liberalisations to ensure that no Holocaust survivor is deprived of the recognition that each deserves,” Stuart Eizenstat, special negotiator for the conference, said. “That’s why we continue to negotiate.”
Germany will now pay reparation pensions to a total of 66,000 people who survived Nazi death camps and ghettos, or had to hide or live under a false identity.
Mr Schneider said the humanitarian deal was reached because of a broadening of the criteria.
Under the new rules, from January 1, any Jew who spent at least 12 months in a ghetto, in hiding or living under a false identity, is eligible for a monthly pension of 300 euro (£256) a month. For countries in the former Soviet bloc, that amount is 260 euro (£222).
Until now, the minimum time requirement for living under such duress was 18 months.
Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference, which provides to services Holocaust victims, said conference officials “have long emphasised to the German government that they cannot quantify the suffering of a Holocaust survivor who lived in the hell of a ghetto”.
And living in hiding came with equally “unimaginable fear” for any “Jew in Nazi Europe who survived for any period of time in hiding or by living under a false identity, when discovery would have been a death sentence”.
The Germans established more than 1,000 ghettos for Jews while the Nazi leadership in Berlin deliberated its plans for death camps to murder them and others deemed racially undesirable or genetically inferior such as homosexuals, gipsies, the mentally retarded or infirm, and those with inherited genetic disorders.
Some ghettos existed for only a few days, others for months or years, before residents were either shot in mass graves or deported to concentration camps.
More than 400,000 Jews lived in Poland’s Warsaw ghetto, and hundreds of thousands of others were squeezed into similar enclaves in eastern European cities like Vilnius, Lodz, Minsk and Odessa – starved and often battling deadly illnesses while forced to work.
Germany also has agreed to offer pensions to those who are 75 or older and spent three months in ghettos like the one operated in Budapest, Hungary, from November 1944 to January 1945.
New Yorkers Otto Herman, 81, and his sister Erzsebet Benedek, 78, were forced into the Budapest ghetto in October 1944, when he was 14 and she was 11. They were freed when the Russian army arrived in January 1945, but they lost most of their family during the war.
The siblings, who now live in Brooklyn area, said the pensions would help them financially, but could not compensate for their harrowing wartime experiences.
“It is not enough,” Mr Herman said. “I will never forget ... Sometimes I don’t want to speak because of the memory.”
Anyone who worked in the German-run ghettos during the Second World War may also now receive a one-off payment of 2,000 euro (£1,710) from Germany.