German Parliament Rejects Pension Payments for Former Ghetto Workers

Bundestag jettisons amendment to 2002 law, tabled by the opposition, which would have required retroactive payments to Holocaust survivors who had worked in the country's ghettos.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, has just rejected an amendment to a law dealing with pension payments to 20,000 Holocaust survivors who worked in the ghettos, which are required by law but have yet to be dispensed.

The amendment in question, rejected by the coalition parties in Germany, was to the 2002 "Ghetto Workers Law, which was tabled by the opposition. It proposed making retroactive payments to a group of survivors who worked in Germany's ghettos during the Holocaust. Despite promises to the contrary, technical and bureaucratic difficulties have kept that group from receiving any payments as of yet.

Israeli officials voiced their chagrin at the decision.

"Israeli is disappointed that, to date, no appropriate solution has been found to satisfy satisfy recognized and legitimate pension entitlement claims by former ghetto survivors, in accordance with German law (2002 legislation on pension payments for former ghetto workers). While we have faith in Germany's good will to solve this painful problem, we must not forget that this issue relates to an aging population which expects legal and moral justice to be done before it is too late. Israel will continue to work on mending the wrongs in this issue," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A non-profit organization of Israeli and German jurists also expressed disappointment over the vote.

Earlier in the week, the organization appealed to the Bundestag to “urgently take responsibility for this intolerable state of affairs and avoid damaging Germany’s international reputation as a country where the rule of law prevails. The German pension authorities are refusing to pay these people what is theirs by law.”

Yesterday's decision is just the latest complication in a drawn-out affair a decade and a half old.

Fifteen years ago, it was revealed that even during the Holocaust, German employers were making contributions to the pension funds of Jewish employees working in the ghettos. This entitled the employees to pension payments similar to those received by their fellow German citizens. To make sure the workers received the funds owed to them, a law was passed in 2002.

It quickly became all too clear, however, that applications were being rejected on the basis of absurd, and even infuriating, claims.

“The courts demanded that these employees produce pay slips and formal proof of employment. This was an unparalleled outrage,” said Emmanuel Nachshon, political minister at the Israeli embassy in Berlin, in a recent conversation with Haaretz.

A German judge, Jan-Robert von Ranse, stepped in to help the former Reich workers. He spoke out against the bureaucracy of the courts and other German authorities, calling for amendments to the law that places obstacles before the pension beneficiaries. “These are people who worked during the war years, and money was put aside for their pensions. Why shouldn’t they receive their benefits now? It is unthinkable that Germans who worked during the war years receive their pensions and Jewish survivors do not,” said the judge.

The court did not take kindly to von Ranse’s efforts and removed him from his post. However, following his actions and pressure applied by the Israeli embassy in Berlin and by the jurists’ organization, the issue came up for debate in the Bundestag. “The different parties have to address this issue and make a political, not legal decision. This is one more chapter in the complex relationship between Germans and Jews” said minister Nachshon in a recent conversation with Haaretz.

On Thursday, however, the amendment was voted down.

Stars of David, worn by Holocaust victims in Europe, on display Yad Vashem.Credit: AP

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