Treasury Scores Another Victory Over Dwindling Population of Holocaust Survivors

Decade-long legal battle results in decision not to recognize survivors' group known as the Tehran Children.

Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai
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Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai

The Finance Ministry’s legal department has defeated another group of Holocaust survivors. Congratulations. It’s an achievement they can hang on their walls as a badge of shame.

This week’s courtroom victory came after a legal battle lasting more than a decade by a group of Holocaust survivors known as the “Tehran children.” The group, whose number has naturally dwindled in recent years, originally consisted of some 1,200 Jewish children from Poland who went to the Soviet Union, then to Iran and finally to pre-state Israel in 1943.

For decades, the State of Israel refused to recognize these “children” as Holocaust survivors. Since they arrived in Israel before the Reparations Agreement with Germany was signed in 1953, they are required to seek compensation from the Finance Ministry, rather than from the German government.

But the treasury pays compensation only for disabilities incurred during the Holocaust, in accordance with the Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law. Since they were children then, many were unable to prove disability and, in any case, the state refused to recognize the group as a whole. Only in 1996 did a few of them obtain recognition and benefits on the basis of belatedly-acknowledged disabilities.

In 2003, the Tehran children went to court to ask that the state be required to pay them compensation out of the money it received under the Reparations Agreement. They based their case on the agreement’s stipulation that Israel was supposed to use the money it got from Germany to rehabilitate Holocaust survivors living in Israel.

Gad Weissfeld is an attorney who has represented the Tehran children for years. When their legal battle began, the law didn’t enable them to file a class action, so the only option was to file individual suits. But these require payment of a fee, which many of the Tehran children couldn’t afford. Thus only 230 ultimately sued, and some have since died. Today, only 217 remain.

A district court awarded a 50,000 shekel ($14,300) lump-sum payment to each Tehran child who filed suit. The treasury appealed, and this week the Supreme Court granted its appeal, ruling that the Tehran children would receive no compensation at all. The justices said there were no legal grounds for filing individual lawsuits on the basis of a historical agreement like the Reparations Agreement.

But the court isn’t the real problem. What is even more upsetting and frustrating about this story is the fact that the treasury opted to waste so much time and money fighting a handful of Holocaust survivors.

On the same day that the treasury won its battle in court, the Knesset approved funding to fly some 70 Knesset members to Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s reasonable to assume that the money needed to finance this trip, including security, hotels, kosher food and so forth, comes to not much less than the one-time compensation the state was asked to pay the Tehran children. The treasury’s battle wasn’t about the money, but the principle. And that’s what’s so infuriating.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid approved hundreds of millions of shekels in additional aid to Holocaust survivors this year. The social affairs minister is now trying to unite all the groups that deal with survivors in order to make their care more efficient. Yet at the same time, the treasury’s lawyers were fighting for a completely different policy.

In their appeal, they explained that they were afraid of setting a precedent that would lead to other suits for compensation under the Reparations Agreement. But the generation of survivors is rapidly disappearing. In another few years, none of them will be with us any longer. What is the treasury so afraid of?

Senior citizens not wanted

Even we had trouble believing the complaint we received recently, stating that employees of the Espresso Bar café in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv Mall have been ordered to discourage the elderly from sitting there. But the hidden camera attached to investigative reporter Lior Veroslavsky doesn’t lie. Employees are indeed told to try to reduce the number of elderly people coming to the café, because they stay “for too long.” And there’s an orderly method for how to do this.

Employees are told to tell every senior citizen who arrives that he can sit in the café for at most an hour-and-a-half, because the table has been reserved. There’s even a fictitious reservations list that employees can use. When our reporter asked her teachers, the innocent staff members, why this rule existed, they replied that management had ordered it.

It’s all on videotape, yet the owner indignantly denied it. “Eighty percent of the café’s customers are people over 65,” he said. “There is no such policy, and I’m not aware of any such thing. You’re invited to come and see on the security cameras that most of our customers are senior citizens. I believe other restaurants also sometimes set time limits because of reservations, and give you a table until a certain time. In any case, there is no such policy.”

But the hidden camera also caught an actual dialogue between the shift manager and a group of senior citizens. They were told the place had been reserved in another hour-and-a-half, though in reality, no such reservation existed. By contrast, young people with laptops, who also tend to stay for a long time, aren’t given similar warnings.

Holocaust survivors demonstrate in Tel Aviv to protest their dismal living conditions, July 25, 2013.Credit: Nir Kafri

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