T.A. Court Orders NIS 13m Payout to 'Misled' Survivors

The Tel Aviv District Court has ruled that the Claims Conference will have to pay NIS 13,650,000, plus interest and linkage, to 1,365 people from the former Soviet Union, who were recognized as Nazi victims but did not receive a one-time grant to which they were entitled.

Judge Oded Mudrik ruled yesterday that The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany had been negligent, had misled and undermined grant applicants in explaining their rights, and withheld from them vital information that would have enabled them to exercise their rights properly.

According to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, the court-ordered sum plus interest and linkage will exceed NIS 20 million, and amount to NIS 14,500 for each claimant.

In 2002, 1,915 people from the former USSR filed suit against the Claims Conference for a one-time grant totaling NIS 19,150,000. They argued that the Claims Conference had misled them by not making it clear that if they failed to meet the grant requirements at the time they applied, they would be barred from applying again and receiving the money in the future.

To be eligible for a one-time grant of 5,000 marks, an applicant had to prove: a) that he was a persecuted Jew during the war; b) that he had suffered significant health damage; c) that he is in a special condition of distress; d) that he is not entitled to compensation under the German reparations law. The regulations stipulated that women who had reached age 60 and men who had reached age 65 at the time of their application would be exempt from proving significant health damage, and that anyone who left the areas under Communist rule after 1965 would be exempt from proving distress.

The plaintiffs, who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and '90s, met the terms of the second exemption. Those who met the age exemption for proving health damage only had to prove that they had been persecuted, while younger claimants also had to prove health damage and lost earnings potential.

The grant rules stated that it could be applied once only, and that once an application has been rejected, it cannot be resubmitted even if the criteria are met. However, the plaintiffs argued that these subtleties had not been explained to them at the time, and therefore some had applied before reaching the exemption age and without furnishing the requisite proof.

Judge Mudrik accepted the argument that the statue of limitations ran out in the cases of 550 claimants who applied more than seven years after receiving a rejection letter, but criticized the Claims Conference for taking a line of "accounting pettiness of the small-business sort." He ruled that Claims Conference staff had misled the applicants "knowingly and in order to serve what it deemed necessary to ensure the continued flow of German money for aid grants."

Mudrik also ordered the Claims Conference to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees and court costs, totaling some NIS 250,000.

The Claims Conference plans to appeal the verdict.