These reparations began to be paid out in 1952, and have been ongoing ever since, but in 2009 revelations came out concerning massive fraud within the Claims Conference, the Jewish organization placed in charge of handling the reparations payments from Germany. The fraud, which has resulted in arrests, took the form of “recruiters” going out into the community and signing up Jews to file bogus claims as Holocaust victims. The scheme apparently went on for at least 16 years, dating back to 1993, with Claims Conference employees knowingly processing the fraudulent claims and the recruiters and would-be “survivors” collecting a share. How much money was involved? No one seems to know, and here in part is what I wrote on that matter:
Also interesting to note is that estimates of the total amount stolen have gone steadily upward with the passage of time. In December of 2009, roughly a month after the irregularities were discovered, the figure was put at $5 million. By February of 2010 this had risen to $7 million, and in November of 2010 to $42 million. Today, as I said, the number stands at $57 million, although officials acknowledge it could rise even higher. All of this, keep in mind, has been paid for by the German taxpayers.
Apparently now the fraud is expected to rise above even the $57 million mark. The Jewish newspaper, The Forward, has published a story headlined—“Was Holocaust Fraud at Claims Conference Even Worse than Believed?”—informing us, among other things, that court papers have been filed suggesting that federal prosecutors are attempting to clamp a lid on evidence that the fraud may be “even more widespread than the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office have so far revealed.”
In their court papers, prosecutors request that defense attorneys be barred from “eliciting testimony or introducing evidence at trial concerning purported improprieties in the Claims Conference’s administration of other compensation programs, including Germany’s Slave Labor Program and the Fund for Victims of Medical Experiments and Other Injuries.”
When asked about these references, a Claims Conference spokesman told the Forward: “The Claims Conference was a victim of an organized, complex crime. We will not comment on the defendants’ legal strategies and possible defense theories.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also declined to comment beyond the statements contained in the prosecutors’ filing.
But some survivors who have long been critical of the Claims Conference are disappointed with the prosecutors’ request.
“It is very unfortunate to see the United States Attorney trying to prevent disclosure of the evidence of misconduct inside the Claims Conference,” said Leo Rechter, president of the National Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “Grassroots survivor leaders have been trying for years to get law enforcement and elected officials to probe the lack of transparency and lack of accountability within the Claims Conference.”
As I had noted previously, the Claims Conference oversees a number of funds—all designated for reparations, but individually applicable only to certain claimants and in certain circumstances. For instance there is an “Article 2 Fund,” which provides lifetime pensions for anyone held in a concentration camp, ghetto, or who worked on a forced labor battalion, as well as a “Hardship Fund,” offering payments to any Jew who emigrated to the West from Soviet-bloc countries. So far the fraud accusations have centered on claims paid out from these two funds alone. But in addition to the Article 2 and Hardship funds, the Claims Conference also oversees a number of other funds as well, and this is what is alluded to by the words “other compensation programs” in the court papers filed by prosecutors. Apparently, if The Forward report is correct, defense attorneys are attempting to introduce evidence of fraud hitting the two other funds mentioned, and possibly others as well.
So far at least 31 people have been arrested, a good many of whom have already pled guilty. However, three of the arrestees are about to come to trial, including 55–year-old Semen Domnitser, who oversaw the Hardship and Article 2 funds, and as The Forward notes, “the government’s motions suggest, for the first time, that additional cases of fraud may have taken place.”
The disclosures of massive fraud at the Claims Conference has been a public relations nightmare for what has been often referred to as “the Holocaust industry.” So far, no one who held a top leadership position at the Claims Conference has been charged. Yet how is it possible that fraud of this magnitude could go on for 16 years with the organization’s president or some other top executive leader not getting wise to it?
And now, of course, we have prosecutors attempting to suppress evidence that the fraud may have been much larger than heretofore revealed. Why would prosecutors do that? Who benefits?
In addition to processing fraudulent claims, the Claims Conference has also allocated money to a variety of Jewish organizations for dubious uses, including the holding of an annual “March of the Living,” in which Jews from all over the world are transported to Poland where they march between two former concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, ostensibly to “strengthen their sense of Jewish identity.” And German taxpayers foot the bill. Claims Conference grants to the March of the Living had totaled more than $7.4 million as of the year 2007.