World War II Compensation: Ghetto Laborers Still Waiting for German Pensions
Germany approved the requisite legislation back in 2002, but many of those who worked in Jewish ghettos during World War II are still waiting for their pensions. Indeed, up to 90 percent of applicants have been rejected. Now, though, a new reading of the law could break the logjam, and cost Berlin up to 2 billion euros.
Abraham Leibenson, born in 1925, was a construction worker from the Lithuanian city of Radviliskis who was imprisoned in the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps during World War II. His entire family perished in the Holocaust. Leibenson later moved to the Israeli city of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv. He suffered from heart trouble and had very little money.
He submitted an application to the appropriate authority, the regional German state pension agency in Düsseldorf -- and received a rejection notice. He filed a complaint with the Social Court in Düsseldorf -- and lost. He appealed to the State Social Court in Essen -- and lost again. Finally, he lodged an appeal with the Federal Social Court in Kassel. That was last year.
On Feb. 18, 2010, Abraham Leibenson died at the age of 84 without receiving a cent from the German state pension scheme. "He was extremely disappointed," says his widow, Ettel Leibenson, "but that's probably their policy -- to wait long enough for them all to die, so it costs as little as possible."
Over 90 Percent Denied
Germany's so-called Ghetto Pension Law (ZRBG) was designed as an unbureaucratic and swift measure to close a gap in the country's Nazi-era compensation -- at least that's what proponents of the bill intended in 2002. But the opposite has occurred. State pension agencies have denied over 90 percent of the roughly 70,000 applications submitted to date. "Every day 30 to 35 survivors die," an Israeli government delegation told representatives of the German Ministry of Social Affairs last Wednesday. Nearly half of the applicants live in Israel.
Historians were rarely consulted at the outset. State pension officials and judges preferred to rely on superficial reference works, like the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, as a basis for their decisions. In many cases, they even maintained that there had been no ghetto in the city in question. They often relied on a database maintained by the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, located in the western German town of Hagen. The museum documents just 400 ghettos in Eastern Europe -- but the Russian historian Ilya Altman has counted 800 ghettos in just the region encompassing the former Soviet Union.
The rulings reached by the retirement insurance authorities and the judges are "in most cases poorly substantiated or totally unsubstantiated," Stephan Lehnstaedt, of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, wrote in a report. They "demonstrate the lack of a qualified approach to scientific literature and historical sources, even an appalling ignorance at times."
- Part 1: Ghetto Laborers Still Waiting for German Pensions
- Part 2: Inappropriate Questioning
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