Germany says willing to discuss Holocaust survivors' pensions
Berlin addresses comments made by Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan in Haaretz last week.
Germany is willing to discuss the possibility of making extra pension payments to Holocaust survivors if that is what the Israeli government wants, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday.
Spokesman Thomas Steg was responding to a question about comments made by Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, in Haaretz last week.
"If we get to the point where we need further negotiations, we'll see," Steg said. "We wouldn't rule out having talks if the Israeli government wants them. We would not refuse talks."
This is the first positive signal from the German government since the reports of Eitan's statements over the weekend.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said Israel had made no formal request to reopen the issue, which is covered by the 1952 Luxembourg Agreement with Germany on reparations for survivors of the Nazi Holocaust in World War Two.
A spokeswoman for Eitan was quoted as saying Eitan did not wish to renegotiate the agreement. Rather he wanted Israeli and German officials to discuss ways of finding funds to cover costs not taken into account when the original agreement was signed.
Steg said that the massive migration of Jews from the former Soviet Union could not have been predicted in 1952 when the original deals were made.
According to government calculations the cost of caring for survivors during the past 50 years cost 4.5 times more than what was originally estimated and paid as part of the 1952 agreement. Germany paid $833 million as part of that agreement.
Early last week the government approved a new package of NIS 2 million in aid payments to survivors over the next three years. The package will be funded by the government, but it was also noted that efforts will be made to acquire more contributions from Germany.
Despite the ruckus caused in Germany by Eitan's statements, as well as the criticism directed against him in Israel, the Prime Minister's Bureau announced this week that he was acting on behalf of the government and had its full backing.
Officially, a statement from Eitan's office read that he would not respond until "an official announcement was received on the matter from the German government."
Nonetheless, in spite of the announcement in Berlin, German Foreign Ministry sources criticized Eitan, saying that it was possible to reach the same conclusions through a quiet and orderly request. They pointed to the fact that to date no official request