NYLAG Helps Holocaust Survivors Receive over $11 Million
Between October and the end of December 2011, calls from thousands of Holocaust survivors—averaging one-hundred each day—flooded the intake line of NYLAG’s Holocaust Compensation Assistance Program. Survivors were responding to a change in German policy regarding eligibility for compensation based on work in a ghetto. The July 2011 law change made survivors who had worked in ghettos eligible for a €2000 (approximately $2,600) one-time compensation payment, in addition to a ghetto pension, whereas, in the past, survivors were not eligible for both types of compensation. The new law set a filing deadline of December 31, 2011, for the one-time payments, making it crucial for those eligible to apply quickly. NYLAG placed a notice in Together, a newspaper read by Holocaust survivors, to ensure that they were informed about the change in policy.
Laura Davis, Director of NYLAG’s Holocaust Compensation Assistance Program, has been working to obtain compensation for work in ghettos since the Ghetto Pension Program’s inception in 2002. Created as a form of social security, the program only granted pensions for voluntary and remunerated work in ghettos located in territories occupied by the German Reich. During the first round of applications, “very few survivors were found to be eligible for the Ghetto Pension Program. The eligibility criteria were interpreted very stringently,” said Davis. For example, Margret is a NYLAG client who survived a ghetto in Poland and then spent the rest of the war in hiding. As a 92-year-old widow living on a fixed income, she applied for a ghetto pension in 2003 and was turned down. Out of 70,000 applicants, 61,000 were rejected.
Uproar about this 90% denial rate led to a September 2007 directive that provided a one-time payment of €2000 to survivors who had been denied ghetto pensions, but who had voluntarily worked in ghettos. “The one-time payment program expanded the breadth of people who could receive compensation,” Davis noted. However, provisions mandated that survivors who received this one-time payment could not receive the pension.
In 2009, after a German court decision liberalized the requirements for ghetto pension eligibility, Germany started reconsidering Ghetto Pension Fund applications that had previously been denied. One beneficiary from the change was NYLAG’s client Margret, who was granted a monthly pension and a very significant retroactive payment for the time between her initial application to the program and her eventual acceptance. However, receiving an ongoing pension made Magret ineligible for the one-time payment.
In July 2011, Germany removed the mutual exclusivity between the two ghetto compensation funds. This led to the dramatic influx of new clients. As a result of this change, NYLAG was able to help survivors like Margret apply for and receive the one-time payment of €2000, regardless of whether they were already receiving a pension.
NYLAG brought on additional volunteers to handle the unprecedented volume of requests for help. In total, over the last few months, NYLAG helped 4,335 survivors file for the one-time Ghetto payment and by the end of the 2011, had obtained payments of $11,870,829 for clients. Germany ultimately removed the December 31st expiration date for the one-time payments and NYLAG is still helping survivors to obtain these funds.