JTA managing editor Uriel Heilman sat recently down for a question & answer period with Greg Schneider, the newly promoted executive Vice President of the Claims Conference. During that interview, Greg Schneider recognized that among Holocaust Survivors “the suffering is tremendous” and there “are people who are desperately in need.” Yet, when asked why – in the face of such desperate needs – the Claims Conference still allocates 20% to ‘Holocaust education, documentation and research’, Schneider’s answer dodges the question by declaring that the amount allocated for Social Welfare had been increased to $116 million and that therefore the split was no longer 80%-20% (but about $84%- 16%). Schneider does not clarify that the same $18 million are still being allocated for questionable, non-social purposes. Percentages are meaningless in this case. Survivors cannot go into a store and buy groceries or medication for ‘four percent’ (the reduction in non-social allocations); merchants want actual dollars, not a numbers game.
The Claims Conference does not permit the Selfhelp organization (the largest Social Services organization in N.Y. for Survivors) to assist destitute survivors with more than $2,500 per year. (the money is not given to the survivors, but is being paid to providers: landlords, dentists; health-supplies, etc…). $18 million could have paid each year for an additional 7,200 cases, or 1,500,000 hours of home care, or have the $2,500 annual limit increased. To the question: “Why not give all of it to social welfare needs, especially if survivors are, as you say, in desperate need?”, Schneider answered that the money “ is from people who were murdered, and the board feels that there’s an obligation to remember who they are, how they lived and how they died.”
Later during the interview – in contradiction to his defense of non-social allocations – he envisions: “If allocations for social welfare were to drop off steeply, the result would be far too catastrophic to even contemplate. Not having that money would affect people’s lives – how long they live and how they live. This is unconscionable and cannot be allowed to happen.”
We are not faulting the professional Mr. Schneider for the contradiction between words and deeds; we are keenly aware that it is chairman Julius Berman who holds sway over the JCC board members.
In the spring of 2005, Mr. Roman Kent, the treasurer of the JCC-Claims Conference wrote: “Responsibility for educational projects, with the exception of a few primary institutions, should be borne by Kol Am Yisrael, the entire Jewish community, which in the last fifty years acquired tens of millions of dollars from Holocaust survivors. They also used the Holocaust as a fundraising tool for campaigns that had nothing to do with the survivors or our causes. Now is the time for the Jewish community, including Mr. Berman and the board of the Claims Conference, to take a step back and allow us, the Holocaust survivors, to decide how we use our money to take care of ourselves.”
Here is part of what I wrote on this subject in the March and April issues of 2005: “Mr. Berman fails to divulge the multitude of allocations to projects – sponsored by JCC board members- that have hardly any connections to the Holocaust. We published lists of some of these allocations in past issues.” Several years ago, the JCPA – the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, a coalition of 123 local and 13 national American Jewish organizations approved – at their annual Plenum in Baltimore – a resolution recommending to the JCC to cease diverting 20% of its discretionary funds for projects other than Social Services for Survivors. But Mr. Berman and the 22 non-survivors organizations on that board pretend to know better.
As a Survivor, I consider it the height of arrogance of any non-survivor to arrogate himself the right to surmise what the last wishes of Nazi-victims might have been. My martyred father, uncles, aunts, dozen of cousins are being remembered and honored in my heart and mind by me, my children and grandchildren. We don’t need outsiders, nor Mr. Berman to decree how the victims ought to be remembered.
Survivors are wholeheartedly committed to the notion of Shoah education and commemoration. Survivor volunteers have spent, and are spending, thousands upon thousands of hours in classrooms, before Jewish or non-Jewish audiences and in other public forums, to attest to the barbaric consequences of racism run amok.
Is it morally justifiable to keep funneling hundreds of millions of restitution-dollars, during the past and over the next decades, at Shoah education efforts and various other projects – which had and have plenty of other support – while neglecting the tragic situations of thousands of survivors in need? Either way, sooner or later the entire costs of future Shoah education will have to be borne by Kol Ysrael. Why not start now and use the $18 million annually to relieve some of the misery of the victims Nazi-brutalities who deserved to be feted as heroes, instead of repeatedly running into deception and neglect?
Throughout the years, hundreds of millions have been spent on allocations of no direct benefit to Survivors, How many hardships could have been avoided? How many lives could have ended in dignity instead of despair.