Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Shevat 5766 - February 15, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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











German Foreign Minister Promises to Implement Ghetto Work Law

Passed four years ago, almost all of the applicants have been turned down

By G. Kleiman

"I turn to you as acting Welfare Minister and as one who sees himself as the representative of thousands of Jews rescued from the fires. The manner of implementation and the legal interpretation of the Ghetto Work Law [Gesetz zur Zahlbarmachung von Renten aus Beschaftigungen in einem Ghetto, known by the German initials ZRBG — Ed] in Germany are defined very strictly. Survivors feel a sense of almost blatant abuse against them and an astonishing display of insensitivity to the circumstances of their persecution," Deputy Welfare Minister Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a meeting attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni and experts from the Welfare and Foreign Affairs Ministries.

Rabbi Ravitz told Foreign Minister Steinmeier that since the law was legislated in Germany, 94-98 percent of applicants have been denied benefits. "I am familiar with laws legislated here in Israel and there are people in the Finance Ministry who make full implementation difficult. But over three years have passed since the law was passed and the percentage of allotment recipients is so small that it points to a fundamental problem and the matter should be remedied quickly."

German officials demand documentary proof for conditions that were common, and follow very strict interpretations of the conditions of the law. For example, one of the stipulations is that the compensation in question is paid only if the work "was done voluntarily." In the hellish conditions of the time, this is often hard to determine. German officials have not been giving applicants the benefit of the doubt.

Rabbi Ravitz told Foreign Minister Steinmeier that Israel's Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute), which is under his charge, has already passed all of its objections to the way the law is implemented and interpreted on to the German government. According to the German legislation, Bituach Leumi serves as a sort of liaison bureau in Israel for the social insurance institutions in Germany and is entrusted with assisting Holocaust survivors to submit their claims. "I am asking for your intervention in solving this difficult problem which the survivors are entitled to by right, not as charity," he said. Rabbi Ravitz said the feelings of resentment in Israel are shared by Diaspora organizations as well.

The German Foreign Minister said that as a member of the Bundestag he was a full partner in legislating the law and is shocked that the law is not being implemented. "I promise to act immediately upon my return to Germany towards the implementation of the law, and if there is a need to amend the legislation I will take appropriate action," he said.

Rabbi Ravitz and Mrs. Livni pledged to place experts from their respective ministries at his disposal upon request.

During German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Israel, Rabbi Ravitz asked Deputy PM Ehud Olmert to request that she intervene in the matter. Livni, who was also present at the meeting, said she had also discussed the matter with the German Chancellor.

According to estimates, the Ghetto Workers Law affects approximately 10,000 Holocaust survivors who should be receiving monthly allotments of 250 euro (NIS 1,400) in addition to one-time retroactive payments from the time the law took effect on July 1, 1997. According to these estimates, the law should require a one-time budget allocation of 100 million euros ($120 million) and another 20 million euros ($25 million) annually.

The law was passed in 2002 following a government bill passed by the German Bundestag based on recommendations by Germany's Supreme Court for Social Affairs, which called for a federal law to provide monthly compensation for labor performed in the ghettos. The legislation was the product of a controversy between Holocaust organizations and the German government.

Rabbi Ravitz told Foreign Minister Steinmeier that during his visit to the death camps he spoke about his grandfather, who perished in Auschwitz. "I said there that they, yimach shemom, did not want to kill him alone. They wanted to annihilate the entire Jewish people. `I want to let my grandfather know that today he has 500 descendants,'" Rabbi Ravitz said in his speech. "And I am telling you today, since that visit, in which Minister Livni took part as well, that my grandfather who perished there, Hy'd, has some 600 descendants, kein yirbu."

Rabbi Ravitz said since all those eligible for benefits, who were at least ten years old at the time, are now at a very advanced age and in need of the funds, the German government should work to rectify the matter as quickly as possible.


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