Hungary Signs Holocaust Compensation Deal Amid Controversy

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Hungarian Jews arrive at Auschwitz–Birkenau, May 1944. —U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem


By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary's center-right government said Saturday, July 6, it had reached a multimillion dollar deal with a US-based Holocaust restitution organization on compensation for Hungarian survivors living abroad, prompting some angry reactions from former Nazi death camp inmates.

János Lázár, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's chief of staff, said the deal ended a year-long row over alleged accounting irregularities and a freeze of payments to survivors.

"The government has concluded an agreement with the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany," Lázár said in a statement.

"In order to now faster disburse restitution monies, the government will transfer $5.6 million within three days," he added in remarks distributed by Hungarian news agency MTI.

The politician made clear that the funds would be transferred to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment (MAZSOK), a Hungary-based committee made up of government officials and Jewish representatives, which liaises with what is also known as the Claims Conference

SURVIVORS CONCERNED

However not all Holocaust survivors agree with the deal, said 84-year-old Nikolaus (Miklós) Grüner, a survivor of Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland where he lost his parents and younger brother.

"I am against the deal and they should immediately stop it," stressed Grüner, who was forced to leave his native Hungary at age 15 and now lives in Malmo, Sweden.

"The Claims Conference is a corrupt Mafia organization. They never paid people like me a penny," he told BosNewsLife in a telephone interview. Grüner said he had been approached by several Hungarian Holocaust survivors to publicly protest the deal.

"That money should have stayed in Hungary. I proposed to the Hungarian government that people like me could invest their compensation money for instance in Hungarian kosher food products," he explained.

"This way we create jobs and help to end the anti-Semitism in Hungary by reaching out to Christians and others."

MORE CONTROVERSY

His remarks came just days after The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that Claims Conference was delaying the results of an internal probe into the organization’s response to a $57 million fraud perpetrated against it for 16 years.

The controversy at the Claims Conference centers around a 2001 anonymous tip-off letter sent to the conference which resulted in two internal probes that failed to uncover the financial wrongdoing.

"For some reason politicians want to work with thieves," complained Grüner.

"The Claims Conference takes all the money, but the Jews in Hungary are afraid to speak about it. Many survivors have even no money for breakfast, while the Claims Conference has their money."

He has written letters to Hungary's government demanding 350 million forints in compensation for the assets confiscated from his family, after they were deported as cattle in an overcrowded train from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

FIVE-YEAR DEAL

Hungary signed a five-year agreement with the Claims Conference in 2007 for the distribution of $21 million (16 million euros) to Hungarian Holocaust survivors but broke off talks on an extension of the agreement last year amid concerns over transparency.

However Lázár said they had agreed to contract an international auditing firm, KPMG, to monitor the fairness of the disbursements.

Earlier this year meager state pensions for Holocaust survivors were hiked with 50 percent by the government.

Roughly 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in World War Two, when Hungary for the most part was a close ally of Nazi Germany.

About 100,000 Hungarian Jews live in Hungary today, the biggest Jewish community in Eastern Europe outside Russia.

(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).

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10 thoughts on “Hungary Signs Holocaust Compensation Deal Amid Controversy

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  3. Rosenberg

    Mr. Berman has failed to handle the fiduciary responsibilities as the manager of a 501c organization in the state of NY. This failure could result in criminal prosecution by the AG. If we are lucky to see that day, at that time we can begin to advocate for fairness in the distribution of funds.

    I KNOW FOR A FACT THROUGH MY CONTACTS THAT THE NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL OFFICE IS WORKING ON IT. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    Reply · Like · Follow Post · about an hour ago

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    Bernhard Rosenberg

    The Claims Conference will only respond to the authorities. No amount of letters, e-mails or inquiring members of the press will get them to react. Those who are critical of the Conference are using the wrong tactic. The only way to unite everyone is through a criminal prosecution which would obviously remove Messrs. Berman and Schneider from the management.

    We know the majority of the Conference Board supports Berman and Schneider and the recent FBI investigation was not concerned with the management of the Conference. Therefore, the New York Attorney General must get involved and pursue an action against the Conference leadership for their failure to handle the fiduciary responsibilities expected from the leadership of a 501c organization. The Holocaust community can scream bloody murder about the injustices, but nothing will happen unless the authorities intervene. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    An embarrassment to world Jewry.

    When I first became aware of the fraud and subsequent cover-up at the Jewish Claims Conference I couldn’t believe it was possible, but now I understand. Chairman Julius Berman has kept the majority of his board members in the dark and the ones that do know how he has operated are just happy to serve. They enjoy the perks and will not rock the boat.

    It’s every Jew’s responsibility to go on record and take a stand against the desperate actions of Mr. Berman. The board members who sit back and condone this behavior are just as guilty. I commend Jerusalem-based columnist Isi Leibler and Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Edison, N.J., for having the guts to step up and expose Mr. Berman’s desperation to hang on to his powerful and influential position. Rabbi Rosenberg has been an advocate for Holocaust survivors for many years and to my knowledge is the only rabbi to publicly criticize the Conference. Mr. Leibler has refused to back down despite threats of legal action.

    Any person with a conscience must stand behind Rabbi Rosenberg and Mr. Leibler in fighting for the elderly Jewish survivors. In a few years these witnesses to man’s inhumanity to man will be gone. Therefore it’s every Jew’s responsibility to see that they are treated with dignity in their twilight years. I urge you to let the Claims Conference leadership know that their actions are an embarrassment to world Jewry.

    Barry P. Resnick

    Orange, Calif

    —–

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  6. I have been relentless in attempting to force the Holocaust Claims Conference to reevaluate and change their methods. At least they are enacting these corrections. However, why shouldn’t the money they have in their possession be distributed immediately to Holocaust survivors? There are precious few survivors left . Soon they will be gone. Only the youngest are still alive. My father, Jacob survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald passed away thirty years ago. My mother, survivor of Skarzish and Buchenwald passed away twenty years ago. I ask every Holocaust survivor reading this to protest to the claims conference or their attorneys and ask what is happening with the funds. Twenty per cent of these funds goes to birthright, Holocaust museums, writers etc. Soon I will reveal the different organizations receiving money from the Claims Conference. Why is a Nazi receiving compensation from the Claims Conference after his identity as a Nazi was revealed? Why are individuals who are not really Holocaust survivors but were added to the list, receiving funds?

    It is your money and you deserve it now. How is it possible for Holocaust survivors to be in need of food and medications when the Claims conference holds so much money.

    I am only one person. You must speak up now.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  7. Dear Ida Spiegel,

    Am a bit surprised about your comment, since we mentioned the 57-million fraud situation and, trying indeed to be a voice for the voiceless, quoted a Holocaust survivor himself. We don’t confuse PR with News. The heading “amid controversy” also suggests there have been questions raised. Ofcourse we could mention Gregory Schneider and Julius Barman. But when we published the news alert we did not know all of those details. We may well update in the near future.

    Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife

  8. If you really want to be the voice of the voiceless you would be reporting about the fact that Gregory Schneider and Julius Berman of the Claims Conference were informed by mail about the fraud being perpetrated on them long before it grew to a whopping $57 million but never told the Board or did anything to stop it…. Or ask why there are almost no Holocaust survivors on the Board of Directors and why the allocations of the funds are not transparent?

    You could also wonder why all these new deals are suddenly being made with the Germans and Hungarians (who never bothered to keep the last agreement they made in 2007)? Could it be because there are people at the Claims Conference who are trying to save the jobs they should be fired from? Read the recent Jerusalem Post and The Forward stories on the subject and please don’t confuse PR with news.

    The survivors who are needy and not getting the help they need – especially home care, now that most are in their mid 8’s and 90’s – would be very appreciative, because they DON’T have an expensive Public Relations office.

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