A group representing thousands of children of Holocaust survivors filed a class-action lawsuit against the German government on Monday, demanding that Germany pay for their psychiatric care.
The plaintiffs, calling themselves second-generation Holocaust survivors, say the scars of the Nazi genocide on their parents have crossed generations. Many still live with an irrational fear of starvation and incapacitating bouts of depression, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit marks the very first time that the German government will be asked to take responsibility and to care for those of the second generation in Israel and indeed, worldwide, attorney Gideon Fisher said before filing the suit at the Tel Aviv District Court.
The suit seeks to set up a German-financed fund to pay for biweekly therapy sessions for 15,000 to 20,000 people, or about $10 million annually for three years.
"If they will not do it voluntarily, and unfortunately they have not done it so far, then I really hope the president of the court here in Tel Aviv would make them take responsibility," said Fisher, a child of Auschwitz survivors who founded the Fisher Fund, the nonprofit group behind the lawsuit.
Baruch Mazor, the fund's director, said four to five percent of the 400,000 children of survivors in Israel require treatment. "Since many cannot hold steady jobs, they cannot pay for their own treatment, and aid from the government and health insurance has been inadequate," he said.
About 4,000 people have joined the suit, he said.
"The only thing we are asking for is some kind of financial help in order to give them psychiatric treatment. There will be no money passed from hand to hand," Mazor said Monday.
It was unclear what standing the court would have in a damages case against a foreign country.
Mazor said the Tel Aviv suit was a first step aimed at winning recognition that Germany bears responsibility for the suffering of survivors' children.
The plaintiffs will then try to negotiate a settlement, or will take their case to a German or an international court, he said.
In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on an ongoing legal process. But Germany was likely to see the suit as a window for an indefinite number of future claims.
Since the 1950s, Germany has paid more than $60 billion in reparations to concentration camp survivors, families of the some of the six million Jewish victims, and to the State of Israel. Much of that money went to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a New York-based organization that negotiates with Germany and distributes the payments.
Mazor said money handled by the Claims Conference is earmarked for survivors, and their children did not want to detract from those funds.
The suit claims the second generation grew up in the shadow of depression, grief and guilt of their parents, which created a powerful inclination among the children for pain and suffering.
Children had a twisted relationship with their parents that impeded their development and led to severe psychological problems, the suit claims.
One 58-year-old woman told her story to Israel Radio Sunday, saying she inherited the fear of starvation experienced by her parents in Auschwitz, where inmates prized any crust of bread they could obtain.
If you come to my house and open the freezer, loaves of bread fall on you, without any proportion to what I really need, the woman said.
She declined to disclose her name, but Mazor said she spoke for thousands.
She said she felt as if she had no childhood, and jumped directly into adolescence. "In our house it was forbidden to exhibit pain or say that you are sad. My father taught us not to show people how we feel, that it is forbidden to show people you are hurt, or that things are hard for you. And this was very, very hard," said the woman.
One plaintiff, 55, is afraid of traveling on buses as they remind her of the trains that took Jews to the extermination camps. She is subject to panic attacks and takes tranquilizers.
Another plaintiff, who says she was raised in a dark, dirty home by parents suffering from depression, has developed fear of dogs. Today, she is emotionally disabled.
Mazor said the Fisher Fund held lengthy negotiations with the German Embassy over the compensation claims, but the talks were cut off by the Germans.