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June 27, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 27, 2014 PAGE 11A wel: own vs. By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA) -- A special panel tasked with ex- amining the governance and strategic vision of the Claims Conference is recommending that the organization shift its long-term focus to Holocaust education and remembrance, JTA has learned. The panel was appointed last year following a scandal involving the Claims Confer- ence's failure to detect a $57 million fraud scheme there that persisted until 2009. It also recommended Cutting in half the size of the board's executive committee and the number of special board committees. The special panel did not, however, recommend any changes to the composition of the Claims Conference's board, which critics have complained is unrepresen- tative because it does not include enough israeli or survivor groups and includes too many once-robust Jewish organizations that are quite small today. The new recommenda- tions, outlined in two hefty documents sent to Claims Conference board members last week and this week and obtained by JTA, will go to a vote when the board holds its annual meeting inNew York on July 8. Consisting of board mem- bers and outside experts and guided by Accenture con- sultants, the special panel was charged with reviewing the administration, man- agement and governance structure of the Claims Conference, which obtains Holocaust restitution and compensation from Germany and Austria. The central question the panel examined was what the Claims Confer- ence should do after the last of the survivors dies. Three po.ssible courses of action were given seri- ous consideration: shutting down; funding education and remembrance projects; or shifting its focus to general Jewish educational program- ming, helping victims of other genocides obtain res- titution or preserving Jewish cultural sites in the former Soviet Union. Given the Claims Confer- ence's successes at convinc- ing Germany to increase its funding for survivors, the panel concluded that "to close down without attempt- ing to leverage its position and significant experience in the service of Holocaust education and remembrance would be to miss a major op- portunity." In an interview with JTA, the Claims Conference's chief executive, Greg Schneider, emphasized that Holocaust education isn't new to the Claims Conference: The or- ganization currently funds education and remembrance to the tune of $18 million per year with money obtained from the sale of unclaimed Jewish properties in the for- mer East Germany. "The Claims Conference has always dealt.with the consequences of the Shoah," Schneider said of the board's mandate for the organiza- tion. "When that meant direct payments to survivors, we did that. When that meant rebuilding communities, we did that: When that meant home care [for elderly survi- vors], we did that. Educating people about the Shoah and confronting Holocaust denial all deal with consequences of the Shoah. To be faithful to our mandate, we should con- tinue to do that. And we are uniquely qualified to do so." The new vision for the Claims Conference hinges on the organization's ability to get material support for it from the perpetrators of the o Holocaust--namely Ger- many, but also Austria and companies complicit in the Nazi genocide. If that fund- ing cannot be secured, the Claims Conference should go out of business once there are no survivors left, Schneider said. "If we're unabie to get money from perpetrator gov- ernments, and the survivors haveall died, we should close down," he said. "We should not try to reinvent ourselves into something else." Stuart Eizenstat, a lead Claims Conference nego- tiator and special assistant to Secretary of State John Kerry on Holocaust issues, said he's Optimistic about getting Germany to support the propoSed new focus, not- ing that the country already does so through mandatory Holocaust education in Ger- man sch~S. ~ "There's eyery reason to think thatthey would be supportive of this," Eizenstat said. "After all the survivors are gone this is the right thing to do.,, Though survivors are dy- ing, their overall need for aid actually ~s rising because of their growing infirmity and relative poverty. The Claims Conference estimates that survivor needs will peak in about two or three years, followed by a progressive decline. Globally there are an es- timated 500,000 living Nazi v'ictims--a category that includes not just survivors of concentration camps, ghettos and slave labor camps but also those forced to flee the Nazi onslaught, compelled to go into hiding or who endured certain others forms of per- secution. About half are ex- pected to die in the next seven or eight years, according to a new demographic assessment that was part of the special ,panel's work, and survivors of some kind or another are expected to be around for another 20-25 years. The debate about what to do about "the Claims Con, ference once' the last of the survivors dies is not new. Established in 1951 to secure compensation and restitution from Germany, the Claims Conference has negotiated successfully for an estimated $70 billion for survivors and survivor needs over the course of its existence. Most of that money has come directly from Germany in the form of pensions and compensation payments, with the Claims Conference acting only as the processor of pay- ments and verifier of claims (this latter area is where the $57 million fraud occurred). As each survivor dies, these payments cease. The Claims Conference also ~has a bucket of discretionary funding: billions generated from the sale ofheirless Jewish property from the former East Germany. But that bucket, known as the Successor Organization, is expected to run dry by 2020 at its current annual allocation rate of about $118 million to groups that aid survivors and $18 million to Holocaust education and remembrance. In 2004, the Claims Confer- ence managed to get Germany to begin to fund a new area: home care for survivors, in- cluding food, transportation and medical care. Berlin has steadily increased the amount of money it provides the pro- gram, from $42 million in 2009 to $190 million in 2013. Last year Germany agreed to another $800 million in fund- ing through 2017. If the Claims Conference board adopts the new plan next month, the question for Claims Conference negotia- tors is whether they'll be able to get Germany to move into another new area--one that, unlike aid to aging survivors, has no particular expiration date. "I believe the good will is there," said Julius Berman, the Claims Conference's" ~chairman. "Their issue is n-nore in terms of budget rather than concept. If we do a cor- rect job to explain the need, I think we'll have a receptive audience on the other side." The mandate for reexamin- ing the Claims Conference's future and governance grew out of a public storm a year ago over the discovery that the Organization had con- ~ucted two investigations in 2001 into questionable conduct that failed to uncover a massive fraud scheme being perpetrated by a senior Claims Confgence official. The fraud continued unabated until Claims Conference leaders ,discovered it in late 2009. In all, 31 people pleaded guilty or were found guilty in connec- tion with the scheme, which resulted in $57 million in ille- gitimate payouts by Germany. A Claims Conference probe last year into the bungled 2001 investigations proved highly controversial when it was disavowed by two of its four committee members and then rebutted in a 21-page missive by Schneider. In the end, the Claims Conference board elected to end its reexamina- tion of the 2001 episode and i'ebuffed proposals to open up to any additional outside- oversight. The committees that over- saw this most recent Claims Conference reexamination process were, however, led by outsiders. The~strategic vision committee was chaired by Jeffrey Solomon, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and the governance committee was chaired by Michael Miller, president of the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Philan- thropies. The committees themselves included outsiders as well as Claims Conference board members. Claims Conference Claims Conference representatives meet with German officials during Holocaust restitu- tion negqtiations in Israel in 2013. FLORIDA E WISH NEWS III Publication Date: August 1, 2014 Advertising Deadline: July. 23, 2014