Scandal at Claims Conference It’s a nightmare, Claims Conference executive says
July 3, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO-NEW YORK – The multi-million dollar fraud perpetrated against the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has not taken any money from the pockets of Holocaust survivors, a top executive has said.
Nor has it deterred the Claims Conference’s work of getting financial restitution to Holocaust survivors, whether by giving pensions and one-time payments directly to individuals or by funding agencies that provide services such as homecare, assured Greg Schneider, its executive vice-president.
The organization has also continued to successfully petition the German government to ease its restrictions on eligibility for financial compensation for suffering that occurred during the Holocaust, he said.
“One of the most important pieces of this has been that no survivor should be harmed in any way because we were the victims of a fraud,” said Schneider. “No survivor can be harmed by this. It wasn’t their fault and they shouldn’t be victimized again.”
In late 2009, Schneider and a colleague uncovered a scheme in which a network of individuals submitted falsified documents to obtain money from the Claims Conference’s Hardship Fund and Article 2 Fund (both funds put money from the German government directly into the hands of Holocaust survivors), Schnieder said.
“Very quickly we brought in outside investigators and then within a couple of weeks we brought the whole matter to the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office.”
Although nearly $60 million was stolen, Schneider stressed that every survivor deemed entitled to receive money from those funds has continued to receive the full amount for which they are eligible.
In 2010, approximately $337 million was given directly to Holocaust survivors worldwide, according to the Claims Conference’s summary of financial statements.
A June 5 press release by the US Attorney’s Office stated that 31 people – 10 of whom were former Claims Conference employees – had been arrested and charged in connection with a scheme that spanned more than a decade and bilked the Claims Conference out of more than $57 million. Of those 31 individuals, as of June 5, 12 had pleaded guilty in court and charges were pending against the remaining 19.
The painstaking investigation continues.
“It requires us to go back and reprocess thousands of cases, so we go case by case,” said Schneider. “For each case we have to go back and find an archival document to prove or disprove the persecution history. In most cases we’re able to prove that the story is true but in some cases we’re not.... We’ve reviewed tens of thousands of cases; it’s ongoing. It’s a nightmare.”
Employees of the Claims Conference have worked closely with investigators, especially in the beginning when the FBI team faced a steep learning curve, he said.
“Now the special FBI agents who work on this [case] have become experts in it, but at the beginning they didn’t know about these specific types of documentation, the history of the Holocaust, the persecution of Jews in different places and [under] different scenarios,” said Schneider. “You really have to know the history and the community in order to understand why [a particular claim or document] doesn’t make sense. You have to know how we process claims; it’s very complicated. So we have worked, and continue to work, closely with the FBI in unravelling the whole scheme and all of its complexities.”
There was already considerable oversight built into the system, Schneider said, and an outside accounting firm, commissioned by the German government, is currently conducting a review to identify possible weaknesses and make recommendations.
“Going forward, the perspective of the German government has been that this is a 60-year endeavour,” said Schneider. “This is now our 60th anniversary. The first negotiations were in 1952 and over the course of those 60 years the German government has paid more than $80 billion. There was a fraud and it was terrible: let’s acknowledge it, deal with it and move on.
“In the arc of history, in the importance of acknowledgement of suffering from the survivor perspective, and for all the reasons the German government continues to pay, this fraud doesn’t deter us from our work. It doesn’t undercut or minimize all of the things that the German government is trying to do and is trying to give to survivors.”
According to the local media sources, Luba Kramrish of Toronto has been charged in the case and has pled not guilty.
For information about the Claims Conference or to enquire about eligibility for financial compensation for Holocaust survivors, visit www.claimscon.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (646) 536-9100.