Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Av 5763 - July 31, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Claims Conference Decision Welcomed By Agudath Israel -- Calls for Inclusion of Jewish Communal Institutions
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The decision of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany -- more commonly known as the "Claims Conference" -- to reaffirm its restitution funds allocations policy was hailed by Agudath Israel World Organization.

The Claims Conference will continue to allocate 80 percent of funds from the sale of recovered but unclaimed East German Jewish property to institutions like senior-citizen homes and to other social services servicing Holocaust survivors. The remaining 20 percent will go towards educational research, documentation and education related to the Holocaust.

Agudath Israel World Organization endorses the significant moral claim that Holocaust survivors themselves have on restitution funds. In fact, many of Agudath Israel's constituents are themselves survivors, and benefit from Claims Conference-supported social programs.

At the same time, the 91-year-old international Orthodox Jewish organization supported keeping at least the current proportion of funds for efforts that are aimed at ensuring that prewar Jewish Europe and its destruction is properly remembered.

What is more, Agudath Israel maintains that a legitimate aim of the Jewish community is to perpetuate communities and Jewish educational institutions that characterized Jewish Europe before the Nazis came to power. Such communities and institutions are a proven portal to Jewish continuity.

These points appear in a detailed memorandum submitted by the Agudath Israel World Organization to the Claims Conference as the restitution body was formally reconsidering its policy of devoting 20 percent of its funding to Holocaust research and education. That reconsideration was prompted by calls from organizations representing survivors for elimination or severe reduction of the Claims Conference's educations- related allocations.

Agudath Israel took the position that funding should continue to be provided for research and education -- a position ultimately endorsed by the Claims Conference's board of directors. But the Aguda also made a case for allocating a portion of the funds earmarked for research and education to kehillos and yeshivos.

Central to Agudath Israel's case is the historical fact that a substantial portion of those Jews who perished during the Holocaust were Orthodox. Indeed, appended to the Agudath Israel presentation is a letter from respected Holocaust historian (and former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) Dr. Michael Berenbaum, which concludes that 50-70 percent of Jewish victims of the Nazis lived and died as traditionally-observant Orthodox Jews, having lived their too- short lives in one of several thousand identifiable kehillos. There were, moreover, as many as 800 yeshivos for boys and young men in prewar Europe, according to a study undertaken by AIWO, and some 250 for young women.

Today's Orthodox institutions of education and communal life, Agudath Israel maintains, "are doing the most to ensure the survival and continuity of the very way of life that those victims, had they been given the opportunity, would have sought to perpetuate." And they are, the memo documents as well, among the most needy in contemporary Jewish life.

The Agudath Israel memo further contends that such institutions -- which, to date, have not benefited from any significant restitution-related funding -- have a unique moral claim to restitution, inasmuch as "central to the Nazis' aim of destroying the Jewish people was the object of destroying Jewish learning and education." Among the evidence presented are quotations like one from Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's chief ideologue, who in 1930 identified "the honorless character of the Jew" as "embodied in the Talmud and in Shulchan-Oruch."

The memo also quotes a 1940 directive from I. A. Eckhardt of the German Highest Security Office prohibiting Jewish emigration from occupied Poland on the ground that an influx of Eastern European "Rabbiner," "Talmud-lehrer" and "Orthodox ostjuden" could foster "spiritual renewal" among American Jewry.

To a large degree, that concern proved well-founded. Orthodox immigrants, although arriving mainly after war's end, in fact helped rejuvenate Jewish life in America, rebuilding their communal and educational institutions and fostering traditional Jewish observance.

The import of that fact is what Agudath Israel urged the Claims Conference to consider -- and intends to continue to press in the months and years ahead.

"Now that the Claims Conference has reaffirmed its commitment to the general principle of providing significant funding for education," says Professor Moishe Zvi Reicher, Agudath Israel World Organization's director of international affairs and United Nations representative, and author of its presentation, "the time has come to expand the concept to include Jewish education in its most basic, and timeless, sense.

"When we think of Hitler's victims, we understandably think of the six million of our relatives whom he murdered. But a truly astute observer realizes that Jewish communities and the Jewish heritage -- a Jewish way of life and learning, along with the structures that undergirded them -- were victims too.

"And what is more, the kehillos and yeshivos of the contemporary world are not only their heirs, but keys to a bright and vibrant Jewish future."


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.