On the basis of the ECJC resolution
on Restitution adopted in Riga on 10 October, and in order to ensure a
proper and fair representation of European Jewry positions and interests
at the WJRO meeting in New York on 28 October, the Board of ECJC decided
to form a delegation. This delegation was given the mandate to meet with
US government officials as well as other WJRO member organizations, in
order to collect as much information as possible as well as to present
the ECJC views on the Restitution process.
of ECJC delegation
The ECJC delegation was constituted
of Cobi Benatoff (President), Boris Khait (Vice President), Albert Hagouel
(Treasurer), Michel Montreuil (Executive Director), Gregory Krupnikov (ECJC
Restitution Committee), Anne Webber (co-chair, European Commission on Looted
Art) and Aba Dunner (Executive Director, Conference of European Rabbis).
position on Restitution
The Shoah was essentially the effort
and attempt to destroy the 20 century old European Jewry. This attempt
failed, and it is vital that today's European Jewry, reunited and 3 million
strong, be given this definitive opportunity to deny Hitler's objective
of a Jew-less Europe by:
- Reestablishing the truth on what
happened in the various European countries
- Restore its own dignity and history
- Reclaim a significant part of
the communal assets it had developed over the centuries, as well as of
the heirless properties which belong to the whole Jewish people.
Considering the above, ECJC clearly
states the following principles which it believes should govern any future
allocation of funds:
a- Every effort should be made to
ensure that assets that can be identified as having belonged to an individual
should be restituted to that person or his/her heirs.
b- Funds should primarily address
the needs of survivors and victims of the Holocaust.
c- Funds should also be made available
for Jewish communal purposes, in which the needs of Jewish communities
in Europe, themselves survivors, should be addressed.
d- In all these processes, the needs
of other victims of Nazi persecution should be addressed.
ECJC has a strong and representative
constituency in Europe, whose aim is to strengthen Jewish life. Strong
expectations arose in the Nice GA, to which ECJC has now the challenge
to respond. European Jews have recently shown a confidence in their ability
to work and solve problems together, and a willingness to be treated as
equal partners to Israel & US Jewry.
On Restitution, we would like to
work all together, under any given umbrella. However, a joint approach
means a shared approach. In this respect, ECJC is not satisfied, because
so far there has been little or no information on the local and national
level in Europe. European Jewish leaders too often have learned news from
Our ambition is to work in cooperation
with the rest of the Jewish world, provided the European realities and
needs are taken into account.
with US government officials (Washington, 26.10.99)
1. Mr. J.D. Bindenagel - US Senior
envoy on Restitution matters
2. Mr. Neil Sher - Chief of Staff,
J.D. Bindenagel - US Senior envoy on Restitution matters
Thanks to the hospitality of Rabbi
Andy Baker, Director of European Affairs for the American Jewish Committee,
the ECJC held a first meeting Mr. Bindenagel, in Washington, DC. Mr. Bindenagel
initially offered a comprehensive overview of the various Restitution processes
currently at work (see address of Amb. Eizenstat to the US Banking Committee
attached, and the outlook on main negotiations below).
Mr. Benatoff thanked him for this
He then went on to present the ECJC
position, and exposed the following points:
ECJC is a provider of services to
the Jewish Communities in Europe, though its Thematic and Regional activities,
and recently in the framework of its GA.
On Restitution, there have been
a considerable lack of information in Europe, and the ECJC is eager to
collect information in order to:
Report to its constituents;
Prepare European Jewry to have a
role in the allocation and distribution of future funds
Guarantee that resources will be
put aside for Jewish Education in Europe, in order to perpetuate a living
memory of the Holocaust
ECJC wishes to express its appreciation
to the US Administration for its leading role in the processes to bring
back justice and dignity.
Mr. Bindenagel expressed its full
understanding and appreciation for the European involvement and position.
It was agreed that the Stockholm
Conference on 26-28 January 2000, organized by the Swedish government with
the participation of other governments, and devoted to the memory and education
of the Holocaust, should have some representation of NGOs, and that Jewish
Communities in Europe and the ECJC should maybe push for this.
Lastly, Mr. Boris Khait raised the
issue of Russian archives, which after 55 years of secrecy are still very
difficult to access or prey to commercially-driven research.
Neil Sher - Chief of Staff, Insurance Commission
Mr. Sher welcomed the ECJC delegation,
and listened attentively to the presentation of ECJC position on the Restitution
matters by Mr. Benatoff.
The Insurance Commission (for details,
see outlook on main negotiations below) is leading a claims driven process,
which will include a major information and outreach program in the US,
Israel and also Europe by the end of 1999, early 2000.
It is therefore of importance for
the Insurance Commission to have lots of relationships with Jewish organizations
in order to reach as many potential claimants as possible.
Significant progress has already
The Commission is prepared to publish
the names of potential policyholders;
It has agreed that the insurance
companies will bear the cost of claims processing;
The valuation process for the payment
of the Holocaust era insurance policies has been finalized, with a factor
10 to the initial face value;
Claims can be based on as little
as anecdotal evidence. Once such a relationship is established, the burden
of proofs shifts to the insurance companies;
If there is no clue on the value
of the policy, an average value of policies at that time can be retained
If a company denies the claim, then
an appeal process exists for the claimant.
The next round of negotiations is
to take place in December 1999.
So far, around 500 claims have been
filed, of which some were offered a payment for settlement for amounts
varying between $1,000 and $76,000.
For heirless properties a Humanitarian
Fund will be set up, although it is a rather complicated issue.
The 5 insurance companies which
are part of the commission had a combined market share at the time of 25-30%;
Other insurance companies are attempted
to be drawn in. It has been neither easy nor succesful so far
On the general Restitution issue,
Mr. Sher, a former AIPAC top executive, identified as ECJC bottom line
objectives to sit on both WJRO and Claims Conference (CC) Allocations Committees.
He expressed the possibility for
an ECJC representative to sit on the Insurance Commission as an observer,
on behalf of the CC.
According to him, the key Jewish
players in this negotiation are I. Singer, G. Taylor, B. Meed, M. Sanbar
and B. Brown.
with the Claims Conference (New York 27.10.99)
Cobi Benatoff: We want to sit in
the Claims Conference and in the WJRO allocation committee: How do we solve
Elan Steinberg: You are on the WJRO
Boris Khait: European Jewry reunited
must be recognized.
Gideon Taylor: After a brief presentation
of the various negotiations to which the CC is party (Slave/Forced Labor,
Austria, Insurance Commission), GT went into some specifics with regard
1. German compensation payments
- 45 to 60,000 people are going
to get these pensions, who either spent 6 months in a camp or 18 months
hiding or in a ghetto.
These compensation payments only
apply below a certain income
It has a diminishing effect in Europe
because it does not apply to countries which had bilateral agreements with
2. Heirless German properties
Out of the total amount of properties
in Eastern Germany, 70% is going back to the heirs, while 30-35% is sold
and the proceeds go to the Goodwill fund.
So far $260m have been allocated,
and about the same remains to be allocated.
From this German Restitution Fund,
about 80% is allocated to Social welfare programs to Holocaust Survivors.
So far $23m have gone to the Chessadim centers in the FSU, for a population
that is more flight cases than Survivors.
The remaining 20% are allocated
for Research, Documentation and Education on the Holocaust. Programs like
the March of the Living and programs in Western Europe operated by
ECJC member organizations are examples of allocations.
CC Planning Committee
This committee will have to define:
A strategy for the CC
Recommendations to the Board with
regard to the many membership applications to the organization.
Gregory Krupnikov: Who are the Europeans
in this Planning Committee. Why not involve ECJC?
GT: I don't know.
Cobi Benatoff: CC was not open and
transparent for so many years that today the pressure from the base in
Europe in tremendous. It is not enough to say that CC is changing.
We, ECJC, need today to provide
information and to see measures that will restore a confidence that was
GT: I am eager to build some kind
of ECJC representation in the CC Board.
Since then, Cobi Benatoff has been
appointed to the CC Planning Committee.
Elan Steinberg: An arising issue
is the expanding scope of Restitution beyond the Jews… to Ukrainians, Poles,
We have to fight to keep the focus
and the bulk of Restitution as a Jewish issue.
Out of the $170m Swiss Goodwill
$32m to the US
$60m to Israel
$60m to Europe, where only a 10th
of Survivors related to Israel's numbers live.
Perception is not necessarily corresponding
to reality. Eagerness of WJC and CC to have perception catch up with reality.
Meeting (New York, 28.10.99)
1. General discussion on WJRO functionning
Presentation of the Swiss Bank Settlement
- Gideon Taylor
Presentation of the Insurance Commission
- Israel Singer
discussion on WJRO functioning
Israel Singer: This meeting is a
key opportunity to comment and amend the WJRO functioning. Open to questions.
There is a great concern to have
representation from all places, not based on demographic balance. WJRO,
as such a disparage body, didn't make many mistakes, and achieved many
Doubts about whether US court room
is the best place to do Jewish justice. Those who go to Special Master
Gribetz should be aware that they're doing harm to themselves and to the
Urge to do whatever you believe
inside WJRO, among the Jewish people. Appeal all o come to a common conclusion.
Principle in WJRO: each group has
an equally rated voice.
Rolf Bloch: From the outside, process
with Gribetz is seen as non transparent. This creates anxiety and concern.
Richard Prasquier (CRIF, EJC): Because
of total lack of information, we are not prepared to play any intermediary
Dunner: Issue of total lack of clarity
of the claims process sent to the individual claimants (notification process).
Need for series of meetings, need
for thorough follow up. To whom do we address our ideas and suggestions?
IS: We'll have a next WJRO within
the next 3 months. We'll also have conference calls involving one representative
from every organisations.
Cobi Benatoff: In the past, European
Jewish communities felt left out with no information on Restitution. That
was all the more regrettable as the Shoah happened in Europe.
Our position is a unitarian one.
This is either a tremendous opportunity, or a disgrace if we squabble about
money. ECJC has now an agreement with the EJC for a single, common body
to speak in the name of Europe.
We understand these are heroic moments,
and we have deep appreciation for what was done by the WJRO.
We also understand that from now
on, WJRO will hold more ordinate meetings, with advance notice and an agenda.
With regard to the proposed WJRO
plan of allocation, ECJC agrees with the different categories and priorities
On the issue of Education and memory,
Shoah was the tentative to eradicate Jewish life in Europe. There is today
a Jewish life, and J.C. in Europe want to continue and strengthen Jewish
We see this Restitution process
as a tremendous opportunity to train and to educate.
The memory of the Holocaust will
be served best by educated Jewish youth. This will serve better than museums,
and will truly strengthen Jewish life, culture and traditions.
I.S.: Thanked ECJC for its participation
and community of interests. Europe was not left out: it is important to
remember that Ignatz Bubis was the European player in this process, and
his loss is immeasurable.
Ben Fishoff (Agudath Israel): With
regard to this last category of the settlement on Education and memory,
there is a committee of 6 in the WJRO, which will be in charge of discussing
and allocating the funds.
Expresses his willingness, as a
member of this committee, to guarantee & protect Jewish Education in
B. Brown (Israeli Administration):
Many parties are trying to split the Jewish people and the Israeli government.
Unsuccessfully so far, and WJRO remains the widest and best framework.
Urges the WJRO partners:
To have patience for the multi-faceted
To remember that nobody can convey
the situation and tactics going on in all 17 commissions.
Finally asked Mr. Singer to increase
the communication going out from WJRO offices.
Michael Schneider: Anxiety about
the past not to be placed in front of I. Singer. Don't believe any tactical
or strategical mistakes were made, only lack of communication.
3 comments or questions:
Technology such as video-conferencing
could well replace some meetings
Board meetings should be held only
with accredited representation of the board members, as required by the
Unclarity about limits of responsibilities
of the WJRO offices towards the WJRO board. Need to define what is to be
endorsed by the board vs. operational autonomy of the offices.
Could WJRO establish a sub-committee
to come up with 'Who does what?'
I.S.: The President will appoint
a sub committee to come up with such recommendations.
From now on, the information office
for the WJRO will be the Claims Conference.
on the Swiss Bank settlement - Gideon Taylor
In agreement with previous comments
that the notification program is inappropriate for Survivors. The Claims
Conference (CC) submitted a case against this, which was overruled by the
To date, 400,000 people have filled
in the questionnaires.
The main dates are:
Final fairness hearing on the settlement:
29 November 1999
Proposed plan of allocation finalized
by the S.M. Gribetz: 28 December 1999
Comments can be made on this publicized
proposal until: 28 February 2000
Final plan go to court for approval:
28 April 2000
The Settlement agreement defines
5 categories of claimants:
The Swiss bank account holders
The owners of looted assets
Slave laborers of German companies
which had Swiss accounts
Slave laborers of Swiss companies
Refugees who were turned back at
the Swiss borders.
And in all 5 categories, their heirs.
These people are estimated to be
800,000 - their heirs are estimated to be 2 million people.
After payment of these 5 categories,
there is a plan to allocate the remaining monies, under the recommendation
of the WJRO Allocation Committee (so called 'Committee of 6', enlarged
Cobi Benatoff (ECJC),
Bobby Brown (Israeli Administration),
Ben Fishoff (Agudath Israel),
Noah Flug (Israeli Survivors),
Zvi Ramot (Jewish Agency),
Michael Schneider (AJJDC),
Eli Spanic (WJRO),
Gideon Taylor (CC).
Such a recommendation calls for
the remaining funds to be allocated as such:
55% for direct payments to Survivors
(people who lived in a country at a tim when it was under Nazi regime,
under Nazi occupation or under the regime of Nazi collaborators)
This direct cash payment should
be implemented by the WJRO under the mechanism used for the Swiss Fund
for Needy Victims.
25% for Social services to Victims
(same categories as in 1. as well as people who fled persecution)
The services should be implemented
by the WJRO, utilizing the CC.
20% in the Memory of the Holocaust
Allocations should be made long
Commemoration programs of the Holocaust
Democracy and Tolerance oriented
Teaching Jewish Culture and Heritage
Continuation of Jewish Life and
Culture ensuring Jewish Survival
The project should be implemented
by a special mechanism to be established for this purpose.
This proposal made by the WJRO will
be examined by the Judge, but he will be free to make any decision taking
into account the different proposals made to him.
Comments on Gideon Taylor's presentation
David Zwiebel (Agudath Israel):
WJRO has been extremely helpful in achieving consensus on the proposal
However there may be different senses
of priority for individual members of WJRO. They should be able to emphasize
these in the proposal to be presented.
Suggestion to postpone the WJRO
presentation of its plan to the end of November in order to allow for review,
comment and suggestions, and to add individual statements within the general
WJRO framework proposal.
Anne Webber: Wants to raise the
awareness that potential claimants on looted art could be deprived of their
Requests WJRO to exclude looted
art from proposed settlement.
I.S.: Whatever individual application
a WJRO member organization makes, should be done within the WJRO general
G.T. on concluding the discussion
OK on the opinion of Anne Webber
to exclude looted art from the settlement;
OK on having Jewish Communities
and organizations file their individual claims within the general WJRO
Finally, the assumption used to
define the percentages of the WJRO plan was that there will be a very significant
sum of money.
Let us have a decision by the judge,
and according to this WJRO may review its position and change its own proposal.
on the Insurance Commission - Israel Singer
Introduction by Bobby Brown: There
is a discussion to link the German Humanitarian Fund (Slave and Forced
Labor) and the Insurance Claims process, in order not to give any negotiating
advantage to German companies over Insurance companies.
The 5 participating insurance companies
would represent 30-35% of the global market share of that period.
Allianz, with a 13% market share
at that time, offered DM 150m.
Generali offered $100m.
Israel Singer estimates that the
combined Insurance Claims and German Humanitarian Fund could reach $500m.
But the process is not just about
money. Not to underestimate the fact that all the documents are being input
in Yad Vashem, in order to restore Jewish History.
The payments will have to come with
a letter of apologies in both cases, with the German companies as much
as with the Insurance companies.
We want them:
to tell the truth
to open their files
to apologize for the money they
Cobi Benatoff: How about getting
the other Insurance companies (2/3 of the market then) into the process?
I.S.: Prodi is interested to get
other Insurance comapnies to close this on a moral note.
with Special Master Judah Gribetz (New York, 29.10.99)
On Communal proposals
On Looted Art
On Swiss bank account holders
Judah Gribetz: "Swiss Banks requested
the written endorsement of the WJRO member organisations to the settlement,
this waives all further claims against Swiss Banks.
CB: Settlement agreement has created
a lot of expectations.
JG: Law suit is governed by US jurisprudence
of class-action. Courts are concerned by fairness & equal tratment.
Notification has created expectations, 200,000 questionnaires were submitted.
CB: Can communities identify to
some category, and therefore have a right to claim, within the WJRO proposed
plan of allocation:
Looted communal property
Looted heirless property
As of 27 October, 147 comments on
the settlement had been received by the Claims administrator in San Francisco.
Also, non-Jewish groups, Jehovah witnesses and 2 European Romani groups
have come to meet with Gribetz.
JG intends to draft a plan of allocation
sooner rather than later. This will probably be appealed, and in order
to unblock the monies, JG intends to resort to the Swiss 'Good will' fund,
although less than half of the money has been allocated so far.
2. On communal proposals
CB: What would be a better presentation
- under ECJC presentation or individually?
JG: Not important, as long as it
contains analysis and meaningfulness. Substance is what counts.
CB: ECJC should coordinate &
bring added value to the body of proposals.
Would we have to put a number of
community proposals that would be presented?
JG: Do what you think is best. Bring
me your ideas and advice.
GK: Do communities fit into the
description of 'group of people'?
JG: There are 3 categories:
Survivors (camps, slave laborers,
owners of looted assets) - estimated 800,000 persons
Heirs (swiss banks want the broadest
definition possible) - estimated 2 million persons
Heirless cases, to be allocated
for teaching & education - who represent them?
CB: J.C. in Europe have a direct
claim to looted communal property
J.C. also are heirs to heirless
private properties which were european.
GK: Is there a need to prove that
looted communal property could have ended up in Switzerland?
JG: Possibility exist to interpret
that any looted asset would/could have somehow ended up in Switzerland.
However, to the difference of other classes, the cost of establishing this
evidence and defining its legitimacy would have to be deducted from the
$1.25 bn, or paid for directly. The Swiss banks will not pay for administration
related to this category.
MM: On plan for Jewish Education,
who is supposed to speaking for the heirless assets and to manage the allocation
of funds that could be set aside for this?
JG: I would presume that JDC is
sophisticated enough to look for partners.
GK: What about flight cases?
JG: Aware of that. People have gotten
checks for 50 years every month while others, who are in real need, never
On Looted Art
Anne Webber addressed this issue
by pointing out that under the current proposed agreement, owners of Jewish
cultural properties which could currently be in Switzerland, would be prevented
from claiming back any of their assets if the agreement is approved as
In line with this, the European
Commission on Looted Art, the ECJC related organization, has decided to
opt out of the proposed Swiss Bank settlement on behalf of all the owners
of looted art who would have not realized the implications of the settlement.
Judah Gribetz thanked Anne Webber
for her deep knowledge of the Looted Art issue and its related implications
to the proposed Swiss Bank Settlement. He confirmed his new awareness to
the problem the settlement represents for looted art and other cultural
A.W.: What are your views on the
looted art issue nonetheless?
JG: If the settlement is not approved
as such, we may expose ourselves to Federal courts turning down the validity
of a new class action suit.
This being said, I assume that somebody
who had real assets should have opted out. I hope that Judge Korman, listening
to Prof. Neuborne at the fairness hearings, will exclude Art from the settlement.
In which case the Swiss banks could
A.W.: would there be a possibility
to establish ECLA as the administrator of claims on looted cultural property,
which would be paid for from the $1.25 bn?
JG: Check with Prof. Neuborne what
would be the best course of advice.
4. On Swiss bank account holders
JG: This is the easiest case to
deal with. A rate of 10 to 1 has been established for the payment to Swiss
bank account holders.
Something which is more a feeling
that established facts, JG feels the need to raise the possibility that
many more accounts are being discovered by the Commission of Eminent Persons,
chaired by Mr. Paul Volcker (the Volcker Commission).
The Volcker Commission is discussing
to date 5,570 bank accounts. However, Mr. Volcker's counsel, Michael Bradfield
has mentionned that currently 50,000 bank accounts are being crossed between
victims and Swiss banks, while another 50,000 bank accounts have closed
in the profit of the banks.
There is no possible valuation to
be made at this point. In any case, since the priority and preference is
on bank accounts The more accounts are being discovered, the more
value this first part of the settlement gets.
Therefore, as many more accounts
could be discovered, the initial estimates for the Swiss bank account holders
payments could be much higher than expected.
with other WJRO member organizations and with AJC
Bnai Brith International (Washington,
Bnai Brith International is a founding
member of the Claims Conference and of WJRO.
The ECJC delegation met with Richard
Heideman, President, Dan Mariaschin, Director and George Spectre, Associate
After a welcome and brief presentation
of BB Inthernational and its new merging in one single lodge in Europe
by Mr Heideman, Mr Mariaschin went on to detail BBI involvement with WJRO.
BBI is open to the interests of
the Europeans, it has because of its historical presence in europe, a European
Dan Mariaschin then asked the question
of the relation between ECJC and the WJC and European Jewish Congress (EJC).
Cobi Benatoff answered in saying
that we have had so far nice words from the WJC, and that the past relationship
ECJC had with Igntaz Bubis was a great asset, lost with his death.
The pressure ECJC received from
the communities to move on the Restitution issue has led to decide and
leave seats open for the European Jewish Congress to join a process which
ECJC wants unified, whenever ready and willing.
D.M.: For the CC and the WJRO, the
ECJC is a different kind of animal to deal with than individual Eastern
CB: The very concept of WJRO is
good we believe. Understanding that there is a lot of day-to-day business,
but a more consultative process is needed.
Agreement of BBI.
CB: Recognition of E. Bronfman and
I. Singer central roles does not prevent us from wanting to regularize
and intensify WJRO meetings and consultations at a crucial time, while
many negotiations are coming closer to resolution.
Boris Khait then addressed the special
case of Russia.
90% of Jewish property was confiscated
by Soviet rule before WW2, and Restitution has yet to happen.
Need for a pressure on the Russian
Government to reclaim Jewish Communal properties, as Restitution works
for the Orthodox Church.
In conclusion, Dan Mariaschin expressed
his interest to be invited to any future ECJC meeting, and expressed his
thanks to ECJC for invigorating the US-Europe relationship.
US Gathering of Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust (New York, 27.10.99)
The US Gathering of Jewish Survivors
of the Holocaust is a member of the Claims Conference and of the WJRO.
Ben Meed, President and Max Liebmann,
Treasurer welcomed the ECJC delegation.
After a presentation of the Gathering,
which has a 165,000 strong and extremely detailed and updated membership,
Ben Meed explained that initially he was opposed to the principle of German
reparations but had to change his mind over the years. The US Gathering
was intended to act nationally, but has lately been pulled into the international
Lastly, they all feel Europeans,
not only by birth but also by culture.
Cobi Benatoff: On fundings for the
memory of the Holocaust as defined in the WJRO plan, ECJC believes that
the most important transmitters of this Memory are the young Jewishly educated
Therefore the need for Quality Education,
for trained Rabbis etc…
Ben Meed: Survivors understand the
need for Jewish Education. I will try to transmit this message to my leadership.
Presented with the ECJC Resolution
on Restitution, Mr. Meed went on to add:
I agree with almost everything you
wrote. I come from Yiddishkeit, a higher Jewish culture that is from Europe.
Today, nobody talks about the sufferings
of the Jewish Survivors.
We came to share with non-Jewish
Survivors, whom most were on Forced Labor. We, Jewish Survivors, were less
than Slaves, we were less than Human Beings.
We might be facing a situation where
we could get less than expected, because we decided to share with non-Jewish
miserable people. Selling this to our constituency is an issue, as we were
unique in our sufferings.
On the money issue: before we knew
we were discussing Jewish matters. Now a war might start. Need to get rid
of the image of money distributed to the Jews. Nobody 'gives' us money,
this money is only returned, too little, often too late.
In conclusion, agrees that some
groups may get more , provided it is based on truthful facts and figures.
Suggests that European Jewry sell
and package its case.
Israel (New York, 27.10.99)
Agudath Israel World Organization
is a member of the Claims Conference and of the WJRO.
The ECJC delegation met with Abe
Bidermann, Agudath Israel representative in the CC and the WJRO.
Mr. Bidermann explained that the
Planning Committee of the Claims Conference is to meet 3 times before July
2000, at which time it will issue a recommendation on new memberships to
Most groups within the CC are sympathetic
to the ECJC as a future member.
In the CC, applications for funding
of specific projects can be made twice a year. January 2000 is the next
round of applications, which are to be decided upon in April 2000.
Joint Distribution Committee (New York, 27.10.99)
The American Jewish Joint Distribution
is a founding member of the Claims Conference and of the WJRO.
The ECJC delegation met with Michael
Schneider, Executive Vice President of the JDC.
After expressing his satisfaction
for the historical and continued support of JDC to ECJC, Mr. Benatoff went
on to explain the new realities of European Jewry and to detail the ECJC
agenda. Cobi Benatoff, speaking on the current series of meetings, expressed
the satisfaction of his delegation at having found interested and listening
partners within the WJRO
Michael Schneider expressed the
intention of JDC to remain an enabling rather than a dominating factor
in its relationship with ECJC, a relationship which he hopes can develop
into an equal partnership as soon as possible.
Talking about the Swiss Bank Settlement,
Michael Schneider expressed his hopes that the funds the WJRO plan to allocate
for Social Welfare services will go to preserve the Chessadim Programs
in the FSU.
On the 20% the WJRO plans for Jewish
Education and in memory of the Holocaust, he predicts some controversies
between the various agencies that are active in Jewish Education.
of Presidents (New York, 29.10.99)
Leading a group of leaders from the
Conference of Presidents, Mr. Malcom Hoenlein welcomed the ECJC delegation.
He expressed the interest of the
Conference of Presidents to see that the need for European Jewish Communities
to affect European Union political as well as Educational, Social and Cultural
policies be more actively addressed from Europe.
He finally commended the new growth
of ECJC, which is welcomed as US Jewry is in need for strong partners on
a pan European level.
Committee (New York, 29.10.99)
The last meeting of the ECJC delegation
took place at the NY offices of the AJC, with on AJC side David Harris,
Executive Director, Andy Baker, Director of European Affairs, Ralph Grunewald,
Ass. Exec. Director for Policy and Programs & Steven Bayme, Director
of the Department of Jewish Communal Affairs.
The ECJC members thanked the AJC
team both for being so instrumental in setting some of the meetings in
Washington and New York, and on a lighter tone for so kindly treating the
delegation to an opening breakfast in Washington and a closing lunch in
A detailed discussion followed on
the results of these meetings, the need for thorough follow up on the various
decisions reached and the importance in having a better recognition of
the European contribution to the overall Restitution processes.
The discussion then addressed the
various areas in Education and other Jewish Communal policies where AJC
and ECJC could best cooperate. A follow up between staff people will take
place in the next weeks to define a possible agenda for joint activities
for the year 2000.
It was finally decided to take advantage
of the AJC consultation on Property Restitution in Europe (Prague, 14 November)
to hold a parallel meeting of the ECJC Restitution Committee, and so allow
for the maximum interaction between both meetings and their participants.
on the main negotiations on Restitution
(based on Amb. Eizenstat testimony)
Slave & Forced Labor
This process aims at obtaining payment
for those who were forcibly compelled to perform slave and forced labor
during the Holocaust. In fact, the vast majority of those compelled
to work for the Nazis who still survive are not Jews, but Eastern European
Christians from countries overrun by Hitler’s forces in the early years
of World War II.
Both German industry and government
have stated their intent to do justice for this last large group of individuals
not covered by any past or current German compensation program.
US involvement started in 1998,
when the German government ask for help to find a resolution between class
action claimants who had filed suit in U.S. courts for wages and damages
arising from slave and forced labor during the Nazi era and 16 defendant
German corporations. The German companies, recognizing their moral responsibility
for the behavior of private companies during the Nazi era, proposed to
establish a foundation which would provide payment to those who were forced
to work for private industry as well as those who were victims of other
actions during the Nazi era in which German companies participated. The
German government, in support of its companies, has proposed to establish
a government foundation, which would compensate many others who were forced
to work for the Nazi state who might not be covered by the private sector
These German proposals are currently
the subject of intensive discussion in plenary and working groups chaired
by Count Lambsdorff (Germany) and Stuart Eizenstat (US deputy Treasury
Secretary). The Participants are:
The Conference on Jewish Material
Claims Against Germany
Five Central and East European Governments
(Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) and the German-financed
Reconciliation Foundations located in these countries
the Israeli government
a number of plaintiffs' attorneys
representing former laborers in class action lawsuits in U.S. courts
representatives of German corporations
currently supporting the foundation, and
the German and U.S. Governments.
By late August, discussions
on the administrative and legal aspects were far enough advanced for the
issue of payment levels to be discussed.
An initial offer of DM 6 bn was
made by the German companies in October, that was turned down by the plaintiff's
attorneys as insufficient.
Following Count Lambsdorff
publicly campaigning for increased German industry participation in the
industry foundation, and as a result of Chancellor Schroeder's personal
commitment to the process, the later anounced in September that 35 German
companies were now willing to join the industry foundation, more than double
the original 16.
Key Issues in the Slave/Forced Labor
The fundamental trade-off for German
industry is to grant a reasonable amount of payment to former forced/slave
industrial workers in return for what they have termed "legal peace" i.e.
an end to lawsuits on the subject. If agreement can be reached on payment
levels, and if the participants in this process agree to establishment
of the private foundation and a federal foundation, the US Department of
Justice would file a "Statement of Interest" in future lawsuits brought
in US Courts against German companies according to which the private foundations
would be recommanded as the exclusive remedy for future claimants who could
utilize it. If asked by the court, the US Department of Justice would indicate
that dismissal of such suits is consistent with U.S. policy. Such statements
by US Government in open court are extremely rare.
As regards the German government
foundation (the public foundation), and in order to obtain the support
of the Central and Eastern European Governments participating in this process,
which is necessary for moral, political and legal reasons, it is essential
that this foundation offer as broad coverage as possible, so as to include
workers who were relocated from their homes and forced to work for the
There are two main reasons to support
a negotiated settlement rather than trial. First, the age of the survivors
-- now averaging around 80 years -- necessitates a quick solution.
Second, the number of victims who would be covered by the two German foundations
would be much greater than those covered by the lawsuits pending in US
Courts. Thus, justice will be better served if agreement can be reached
to establish the German foundations, rather than put Holocaust victims
at risk in uncertain and lengthy litigation.
on the Insurance Claims issue
The International Commission on Holocaust
Era Insurance Claims, created in November 1998, has been charged with establishing
a just process that will address the issue of unpaid insurance policies
issued to victims of the Holocaust.
Under the leadership of former Secretary
of State Lawrence Eagleburger, the Commission has achieved significant
progress in creating a claims-based process to pay outstanding insurance
claims in the lifetimes of Holocaust survivors. The International
Commission includes five leading European insurance companies: Allianz,
Generali, AXA, Zurich, and Winterthur, representatives of international
Jewish survivor and other Jewish organizations, U.S. and European insurance
regulators, and the State of Israel. Under Chairman Eagleburger, a fact-based
effort to resolve Holocaust insurance claims promptly and fairly is being
negotiated. The objective is to provide expeditious resolution of insurance
claims without resorting to lengthy litigation that would delay payment
The International Commission is
making significant progress in resolving a complex set of issues which
includes valuation of policies, independent audit review, and the waiver
of the statute of limitations. It will establish a help line for claimants.
It has designed a non-bureaucratic claims process and relaxed set of standards
of proof. It is prepared to publish the names of potential policyholders;
has agreed that the insurance companies will bear the cost of claims processing;
and proposed establishment of a humanitarian fund.
Chairman Eagleburger expects to
have the claims settlement system in place in the near future. The
International Commission's blueprint for settling Holocaust-era insurance
claims is now in the final round of negotiations. Once the claims process
is in place, we expect that the legal and the claims process will be merged.
The US Administration supports Chairman
Eagleburger's and the Commission's efforts to bring justice to Holocaust
survivors through the establishment of a fair claims process. Recently
the, Belgian, Czech, and Polish governments joined the German, French,
Israeli and Italian governments in participating in the Commission.
It is broadly agreed that the International
Commission is the best vehicle for resolving Holocaust-era insurance claims.
The 5 companies' commitment to the Commission, demonstrated by the $90
million escrow fund established at the beginning of the process, and their
willingness to negotiate on these difficult issues, has helped make possible
the progress to date.
However all other insurance companies
that hold policies from the Holocaust era, and whose market share at the
time is estimated to be around 65-70%, have still to participate in this