The organization that handles claims on behalf of Jews who suffered under the Nazis said Tuesday that Germany has agreed to extend compensation to their surviving spouses and to increase other payments, taking the total to be paid out in 2020 to around $1 billion.
Until now, pension payments to Holocaust survivors had been stopped upon their death, but the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said Berlin has now agreed to continue survivor pensions for nine months after a death to the spouse.
The payment is expected to be granted to some 14,000 spouses retroactively and a total of about 30,000 people are expected to qualify, Claims Conference negotiator Greg Schneider said.
"We have survivors who have been just getting by for many years," Schneider said in a telephone interview from New York. "This extra nine months of income gives a cushion for the family of the survivor to figure out how to deal with their new circumstances."
The Claims Conference carries out continuous negotiations with the German government to expand categories of people eligible for compensation for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. Since 1952, Germany has paid more than $80 billion.
The Claims Conference established its own fund in 1963 to also aid so-called Righteous Gentiles — non-Jews who helped Jews survive the Holocaust — and this year the German government agreed to help fund those payments.
Schneider said there are some 277 Righteous Gentiles still alive today, whose average age is 91, who have indicated they need financial assistance.
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"These are non-Jews who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust. They literally put their lives at stake to save others," Schneider said. "Every one of these people should live with the greatest of dignity, so it was important for us to ensure an ongoing funding stream."
In other negotiations, Germany agreed to increase social welfare service funding for survivors by 44 million euros ($50 million) to a total of 524 million euros for 2020.
Those funds go to welfare groups that help Holocaust survivors with a range of services, including psychological counseling and in-home care. Some 132,000 victims of the Nazis currently receive such assistance.
The new payments for spouses of survivors would fall into this category but the costs have not yet been determined to add to the 2020 figure.
Germany has also agreed to increase direct compensation pensions, which are specific payments for a person's particular suffering that go to some 60,000 survivors in 83 countries.
Pensions were increased from 415 euros a month to 446 euros retroactive to January 1 as of Monday, then will increase to 513 euros a month on January 1, 2020, and 580 euros a month on January 1, 2021.
In all, the Claims Conference expects to distribute 340 million euros in direct compensation pensions in 2020 — a total of 864 million from Germany when combined with the social welfare payments.