Crucial compensation

Claims Conference secures nearly $1.5B in funding for Holocaust survivors from Germany for 2024

Organization’s executive VP describes ‘somber, serious, raw, emotional’ negotiations with Berlin, leading to some $535 million in direct stipends and nearly $900 million for home care

The German government agreed to allocate nearly $1.5 billion dollars in direct compensation and home care services for Holocaust survivors for 2024, following extended negotiations with the Claims Conference, the organization announced Thursday.

The Claims Conference, formally known as the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said the German Federal Ministry of Finance had also agreed to guarantee several existing programs for at least several more years, including a direct compensation program and funding for Holocaust education.

“This year we were very successful,” the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, Greg Schneider, told eJewishPhilanthropy, crediting the agreements to “a combination of presenting a tremendous amount of data, the political pressure that we bring to bear and the realization, which we make clear again and again, that these are the last few years that the German government will even have the opportunity to help survivors.”

The German government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Under the agreements, the German government agreed to provide $888.9 million in 2024 for home care services to survivors, including “an additional $105.2 million in funding to address survivors’ increased needs,” the conference said. These services can include things like a care provider who helps with basic household tasks a few hours a week to full-time, live-in assistance. This funding, which goes through the Claims Conference, is paid out to hundreds of groups that provide home care to survivors around the world, including larger organizations like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which operates extensively in the former Soviet Union.

According to recent surveys, there are upwards of 200,000 Holocaust survivors around the world, with approximately 150,000 living in Israel and roughly 50,000 in the United States.

Schneider said that while there is an assumption that as time goes on and more survivors die, the amount of funding for such home care should diminish, the Claims Conference has found that at least for the next few years, as the remaining survivors age and require more assistance, the amount needed will, in fact, increase and then plateau, before beginning to drop off later this decade.

In addition to continuing the monthly pensions that the German government pays to Holocaust survivors who were put in ghettos or camps, Berlin will also provide annual payments to 128,000 survivors who do not receive such pensions as part of a so-called “Hardship Fund.” In total, these direct compensation payments amounted to $535 million for survivors in 2024, according to the Claims Conference.

As part of this year’s agreement, the German government guaranteed that it would continue making these “Hardship Fund” payments, with an inflationary increase, through 2027. This will go mostly, but not only, to Russian-speaking survivors, who were forced to flee their homes as the Nazis invaded. (Survivors of the Kindertransport or Jews who fled the Nazis in North Africa, for instance, would also be eligible.)

Under the agreement, recipients of “Hardship Fund” stipends will receive a one-time payment of €1,200 (approximately $1,300) in 2024, with a €50 ($54) increase each subsequent year through 2027.

Schneider said this aspect of the agreement was particularly significant as Russian-speaking survivors are generally the poorest and most likely to have health issues.

“Those Jews were not in camps or ghettos, but they lost everything. And even after the war, they mostly lived in the Soviet Union, where they were again persecuted because they were Jews and they were never able to accumulate any wealth and had worse health because of worse access to health care. And then even after the fall of communism… they came to the West with very little,” Schneider said. “And so today the greatest indicator of poverty and diminished health amongst Holocaust survivors is whether you’re Russian speaking. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in Israel, if you’re in Germany, if you’re in Brooklyn, or if you continue to live in Ukraine and Russia – there are deep pockets of tremendous poverty in those communities.”

In addition to these forms of direct and indirect compensation for survivors, the German government agreed to continue funding Holocaust education programs through 2027. This was a continuation of last year’s agreement, in which Germany agreed to provide €25 million ($27 million) for Holocaust education in 2023, €30 million ($32.5 million) in 2024, and €35 million ($37.9) for 2025. Under this year’s deal, Berlin agreed to extend this program by two more years, increasing funding each year by €3 million ($3.25 million). 

Schneider said this Holocaust education program was driven largely by comments and concerns that the Claims Conference heard from survivors. In the past, Schneider said, the conference mostly received inquiries about pensions and stipends, which gave way to requests for home care as survivors got older.

“Today, the most common question I get from Holocaust survivors is, who will remember us? Who will tell our stories?” Schneider said. “I hear all the time, ‘I’m the only person who remembers my shtetl. I was from wherever and nobody will remember that way of life, the town where we all spoke Yiddish and the atmosphere on Friday afternoon, the whole way of life. I’m the last person on the planet who remembers them and that whole world. That’s a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a Holocaust survivor and it is imperative on us to relieve that responsibility by taking it on for them.”

Schneider said that funding will be paid out in grants to a wide variety of organizations and initiatives, from traditional efforts like research – ??”We are the largest funder of archives around the world” – and collaborations with large museums and memorials, to more innovative methods like social media campaigns, such as underwriting TikTok star Montana Tucker’s recent trip to Poland.

Schneider, who has worked at the Claims Conference for more than a decade, said the negotiations with the German government are held directly with its Finance Ministry, specifically through a designated state secretary – the equivalent of a deputy minister. This year, that was Luise Hölscher, who entered her office in January 2022 when last year’s discussions were already underway.

Schneider said the negotiations with the German government, which always include Holocaust survivors, are often emotionally charged and even macabre, dealing with harsh actuarial calculations about life expectancies and medical needs. 

“I think grim is a good word,” Schneider said. “They are somber, they’re serious, they’re raw, they’re emotional. We have to speak about numbers. We have to speak about how many people will be eligible, about what’s the cost per person, what’s the cost of home care. There are a lot of numbers, but we are cognizant that this, ultimately, is never about numbers. It’s about people.”

This year, ahead of the direct negotiations, as Hölscher was new in her position, the Claims Conference brought her to meet Holocaust survivors in Israel, Poland and the United States and to visit Holocaust museums there as well.

“We brought the lead negotiator on their side and their whole team to meet with individual survivors and hear their stories, to sit by the bed of someone who needs a home care worker and hold their hand and listen to their story about their Nazi persecution,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, we also have to realize that the people we’re speaking to were not even alive at the time of the Holocaust. They take on a responsibility that is historic… but the individuals that we’re speaking with are certainly not guilty, of course, and they are ultimately part of the solution,” Schneider said. “And so it’s difficult. There are times when there’s anger and fist-pounding and eyes welling with tears, and there are times when it’s more business-like.”

Schneider said that while the negotiations often include deep discussions about the history of the Holocaust and presenting the experiences of survivors to the German team, the Claims Conference is always cognizant of the fact that “this is not an academic exercise to teach about the Holocaust.”

“This is about getting results that have an effect on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives,” he said. “So it’s important that we emerge with an agreement. And this year, it was a very, very significant agreement that will have a deep impact.”