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|NEW YORK - Two and a half years
after governments announced in London that they would establish an international
fund for Nazi victims, estimated at some $50 million, less than half of
the promised aid has been distributed. Some Jewish communities bristle
that they were unaware of the fund.
The International Fund for Needy Victims of Nazi Persecution was created in December 1997, in conjunction with the 'Nazi gold'conference in London.
The money became available when countries
forfeited their claims to the'residual gold' available in the Tripartite
The major pledges were: the United States, $25 million (over three years); the Netherlands, $9.4 million; Austria, $7.7 million; Italy, $7.1 million; France, $3.2 million; Spain, $1.7 million; Britain, $1.6 million; and Sweden, $1 million.
At the time, this was considered a significant amount for Nazi victims. Eight months later, it was overshadowed by the $1.25 billion Swiss banks settlement, which in turn was dwarfed by the DM 10 billion German slave labor agreement.
Only $21 million have been allocated thus far, and only Austria and the Netherlands have indicated that their funds would assist survivors in Israel.
There are delays primarily because nations have been conscientious in seeking projects, or because there were no proposals and nations had to scrounge for projects.
Austria appears to be the most assertive in distributing its funds.
According to the Austrian fund director, Hannah Lessing, the money is providing direct aid to survivors who did not get previous compensation; assisting the Israeli agency Amcha, which provides psychological services for survivors; and for educational projects.
Austria and Luxembourg also are assisting with social services for survivors in sites that have been overlooked by other programs. They fund a project that provides therapy for Nazi victims in Santiago, Chile. 'We couldn't imagine that something like that existed,' said Paul Dostert, the Luxembourg fund director.
The donor states are scheduled to hold their annual meeting later this month in London. The British Foreign Office did not respond to several requests for comment about the fund.
The money from Spain apparently has stalled, despite two years of agitation by the Greek Jewish community, which hosted an emotional visit to Salonika by King Juan Carlos in March 1998. The monarch laid a wreath at a memorial for Jewish victims, and pledged aid for Sephardi survivors. Two months later, in Washington, the State Department announced that Spain planned to give funds to the World Sephardi Organization to aid Nazi victims.
Two years later, those funds sit in the Federal Reserve in New York. An American Sephardi leader said the Sephardi organizations did not trust each other to handle the money. The Spanish fund director said it was given to the World Jewish Congress, to be used to benefit Sephardi Nazi victims.
Jewish leaders in Sarajevo, Sofia, and Skopje - European communities with Sephardi Nazi victims - fumed that they never heard of the fund, and Greek Jewish community leaders said there were no published criteria for proposals.
The European communities also were irked that an American organization would be handling the funds. 'The distributors are American,' said Emil Kalo, an executive of the Jewish community of Bulgaria. 'The victims are Europeans.'
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