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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 20, 2012 Claims From page 1A some 60,000 survivors around theworld, correctingwhatuntil now had been a disparity that saw survivors living in western countries receiving more than those in eastern countries. All survivors will now receive the equivalent of approximately $370 per month. Germany also agreed to relax the eligibility rules for those who receive restitution payments for being forced into hiding during the Nazi era. Until now, only those who went into hiding for at least 12 months were eligible; now the eligibility threshold will be six months. Together, the changes are expected to cost Germany an additional $300 million. "The German government is assuming even greater re- sponsibility than before," said Werner Gatzer, who as state sec- retary of the German Finance Ministry represents Germany in negotiations with the Claims Conference. Gatzer made his re- marks in a speech July 10 at the 60th anniversary event. "This process is about much more than just financial compensa- tion. It's about the recognition of all these individual, personal destinies that need to be heard and preserved." Gatzer said a "spirit of coop- eration and trust" guides the negotiations process. "It's amazing that we've been able to get payment for tens of thousands of the poorest Jews on the planet," Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told JTA. "It's an acknowledgement of their suffering at the hands of the Nazis decades ago." While the Claims Confer- ence administers Germany's restitution programs, it also makes allocations of its own from the so-called Successor Organization, which is the legal beneficiary of money from the sale of Jewish-ownedproperties in the former East Germany for which no heirs have come forward. On July 11, the Claims Con- ference board approved $136 million in allocations from the Successor Organization for each of the next two fiscal years. The bulk of the money will go to programs that aid survivors, including home care, soup kitchens, meals on wheels and medical assistance programs. Slightly less than $18 million per year will go toward Holocaust education. The board also voted to create a Goodwill Fund of approximately $61 million for heirs of former East German propertieswho missed previous deadlines for making claims on those properties. This year's Claims Confer- ence board meeting represent- ed something of a high point for the organization. For the first time in three years, the meeting was not overshadowed by talk of the massive fraud that was discovered at the conference in late 2009. The $57 million fraud figure has not grown in recent months, and 12 of 31 people arrested in connection with the case have pleaded guilty. Because it was the 60th an- niversary ofthefirstrestitution agreement, the board meeting was moved to Washington from its usual location in New York, and the event at the Holocaust museum amounted to some- thing of a somber celebration. The next day, the Claims Conference board meeting was followed by a luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building marking the 100th birth- day of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary before being arrested after the war by the Soviets and then disappear- ing. Several U.S. congressmen and senators attended the luncheon, which was organized by The Friedlander Group. The U.S. Senate this week unani- mously approved a resolution to honor Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal. Meanwhile, Claims Confer- ence negotiators already are eyeing the next round of nego- tiations with Germany. Among the items on the Jewish wish PAGE 19. A list, according to Eizenstat: Extending Germany's three-year, $500 million pro- gram to fund home care for elderly survivors beyond 2014; Increasing the payment amount from the Hardship Fund, which has gone un- changed since the 1980s; Changing or eliminat- ing the income-and-asset requirements for the Article 2 Fund, which provides monthly pensions of about $370 for some 60,000 poor Holocaust survivors, so that even those survivors who are well off will receive compensation for their suffering at the hands of the Nazis; Considering funding for survivors of so-called open ghettos--unfenced areas where Jews were forced to live and faced restrictions on com- ing and going. Miracle From page 1A Department of Neurology was not expected even by the most senior neurologists. An ALS patient--a chronic diseasewith no known cure that causes a slow and painful pro- cess of muscular @strophy-- who was wheelchair-bound and had difficulty speaking and breathing, underwent a com- plete turnaround. From being handicapped and dependent on others for his most basic daily needs, suddenly Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz stood on his feet, and returned to teaching at the prestigious Mir Yeshiva. The Mir is the world's largest yeshiva with more than 7,000 students. The treatment that is re- sponsible, it appears, for the dramatic improvement in his condition was developed by the Israeli biotechnology company Brainstorm, and is based on stem cells. This is the first time that someone who has been treated with stem cells has regained abilities which were previously lost. Despite the great caution that is guiding the doctors as they discuss the rabbi's condition, it is difficult to ignore the excitement which surrounds even the most stern ofstaffmemberswhentheytalk about the turnaround that the rabbi has experienced... Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz recalls, "I couldn't talk. It was difficult for me to breathe, and my lack of balance made it impossible to get up from my wheelchair. Even when they supported me I was able to walk onlywith difficulty. My students couldn't understand me when I spoke."... "In 2010, after a series of tests at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic, his doctors told him the difficult news, Rabbi Shmuele- vitz had ALS [also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease], which is considered the most severe known neuromuscular dis- ease. ALS patients gradually lose all of their motor abilities, until they eventually lose their ability to breathe and die from suffocation. The vast majority of patients die within three to five years following diagnosis. A small number of patients, for example physicist Stephen Hawking, manage to survive for years, but are almost unable to function. "The American doctors and the Israeli doctor who treats me, Professor Menachem Sade of Wolfson Hospital, agreed that the only possible way to improve my condition would be to receive stem celltw, atment at Hadassah;' explains the rabbi. 'q'hat was my final hope." Last May, the Ministry of Health granted approval to the Israeli biotechnology company Brainstorm, specializing in the development of technologies and medications based on stem cells,and the Hadassit company associatedwith Hadassah Medi- cal Center, to begin a clinical trial of a new treatment based on cell therapy, which is meant to delay or stop the degeneration of nerve cells inALS patients... This is the first treatment of its kind in history. Because of the severity of his condition, and the fact that he was suffering from 2 different muscular diseases, the rabbi was not allowed to participate in the clinical trial...However he was given the treatment as a "compassionate treatment," intended for patients who have no other hope. A month ago, the rabbi was given the treatment for the first time, and the effect on him was incredible. "A few days after the treatment, my whole life began to change," he says with a smiling face. "My speech began to improve, it became easier to breathe and I began to walk unassisted. I am even able to climb stairs. My students understand every word I say. It's truly a miracle from Heaven. I am a new person as a result of the treatment I received" "It's hard to describe the excitement that took hold of us as a result of the amazing results of this treatment," says Brainstorm president Chaim Leibovitch... "The change that occurred in him was huge, and also the objective improvement in his functioning was ex- tremely impressive," explains one of the hospital's doctors with excitement. "From being handicapped, a person who couldn't walk and couldn't talk, a significant amount of his abilities have returned... There is no doubt that a great drama is taking place here. We need to remember that we are talking about a single isolated case. On the other hand, even isolated reports like this can also signalamedicalbreakthrough" And so while until now, treatment has only succeeded in slowing down the disease at best, at Hadassah, they are optimistic of finding a break- through thatwould reverse the destructive impact the disease takes on the body. The case of Rabbi Shmuele- vitz has given hope to patients suffering from one of the most difficult and cruel diseases that exists. To hear the rabbi in his own words, check out avideo on You- Tube which shows him walking unassisted and with his speech improved significantly. The videowas taken inHadassahEin Keren Hospital only a month afterbeginningthe experimen- tal treatment. You can find the video at tch?v=0nMUF7cN884&feature =youtube_gdata_player Rights From page 5A standards," Rosensaft is also wrong. There is no evidence that ICHEIC companies made offers of payment in the absence of documentary proof of a policy. For example, Generali was allowed--without proof-- to deny claims on policies it admittedly sold by saying the policies were paid or lapsed before 1936. Outrageously, ICHEIC placed the burden on survivors to disprove Generali's argument--an impossible task for survivors when the com- panies have the records. New York Legal Assistance Group President Yisroel Schuiman and others condemned this grossly unfair practice. After ICHEIC closed in 2007, former New York State Insurance Superintendent Albert Lewis, who served as an ICHEIC appellate arbitra- tor, disclosed that he and other arbitrators were pressured by the ICHEIC hierarchy to rule against survivors even when they had credible claims, if the survivors could not produce documentary proof the policy was in force. This was reported in the New York Jewish Week. ICHEIC placed the burden on survivors to rebut Generali's argument. This is a heavier burden than a survivor would face in court. Rosensaft wants to give the companies credit for accepting claims made by people who didn't know a policy number or the name of the issuing company. But he neglects to mention that insurers were already obligated by several state laws to publish the names and enable survivors and heirs to obtain this information to ascertain whether they might have a claim before ICHEIC was created. In reality, ICHEIC allowed the companies to produce less information than the California, New York, and Florida state laws, sharply re- ducing the number of claims and recoveries. When ICHEIC closed, econo- mist Sidney Zabludoff, who conducted the market study for ICHEIC, reported that the body only paid 3 percent of the amount owed by the insurance companies to Jewish families from before the Holocaust. It paid $250 million on 14,000 policies. Although ICHEIC also paid out $34 million in $1000 checks to 34,000 applicants, these "humanitarian" pay- ments were considered patron- izing rejections by survivors. It is just wrong for Rosensaft to say that 48,000 survivors or family members were paid on their policies through ICHEIC. What is most outrageous is that Rosensaft continues to justify asystem thatwould deny Holocaust survivors our funda- mental legal rights to go to U.S. courts to recover our contracts, a system that has allowed thou- sands of Holocaust survivors to die waiting for justice. In 2008, after the House Foreign Af- fairs Committee unanimously passed Tom Lantos's insurance legislation and Mr. Lantos fell ill and passed away. The insurers then convinced Barney Frank to gut the bill by promising that the New York State Holo- caust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) would "continue to" pay claims under ICHEIC's "liberal" rules. The results: in the subsequent 4-plus years, the New York office succeeded in helping recover a grand total of six policies, worth only $70,000. Rosensaft's statement that the office has handled all claims "appropriately" is contradicted by the award- winning investigative report by StewartAin in the New York Jewish Week. We can also do without Rosensaft's patronizing refer- ence to lawyers. I was one of the named plaintiffs in the Hungarian Gold Train case. When the U.S. government published the story about the way the U.S. Army took much of the Hungarians' property from the Gold Train and used it for themselves, I said: "That is my family's gold on that train." Other Hungarian sur- vivors, including here in South Florida, agreed. But nothing happened. The government didn't follow up, and neither did the Claims Conference, the World Jewish Congress, Anti- Defamation League, or anyone else. That is why we contacted our lawyer to see what could be done, and it was the three law firms that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, and five years of theirwork, working closely with us survivors throughout the case, that brought about that settlement. When the judge approved the agreement, she thanked the survivors and the lawyers, and also praised the law firms for accepting less than half their normal rates to bring about a "miraculous" result. The Hungarian Gold Train settlement provided over $22 million for thousands of Hun- garian survivors all over the world who are in need. It produced desperately needed assistance that the govern- ment and the Jewish commu- nity were not providing. The Claims Conference didn't care at all about the Gold Train or our property until the lawyers were successful in court and announced progress in settle- ment talks. Then, it wanted to take all the credit, but the Judge wouldn't stand for that. Every dollar in the settlement was earmarked according to what the survivors wanted, and has to be accounted for. When Rosensaft cites abuses by other lawyers in class action cases, that is fine but irrel- evant. Anyone who has read the legislation, or followed the testimony, would know that the legislation is not designed for class actions. It is set up to allow individual survivors and heirs to go to court to bring an individual claim based on the information about their family policies that the com- panies would have to produce, under the new law and under court-ordered discovery. This is the American way. It is the same remedy that is avail- able for insurance consumers throughout the U.S.--unless that consumer happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Why shouldn't Holocaust survivors have the same rights as every other American? If it is to protect us from "false hope," Rosensaft can spare us his paternalistic nonsense and mind his own business. We survivedAuschwitz, Birkenau, Buchenwald, death marches and killing fields. We can make up our own minds. HR 890 and S. 466 are supported by the overwhelming majority of survivors and members of the second generation. The only survivors who oppose it are from the Claims Conference, which was part of ICHEIC and collected many millions of dollars from ICHEIC. And the Claims Conference, like its organizational twin the World Jewish Congress, has consis- tently opposed all legislation allowing survivors to control our individual rights. Why didn't the JTA disclose that Rosensaft is a member of the WJC and the AG and the CC, who were participants on ICHEIC, and have been opposing legislation to allow survivors to sue the insurers from day one? Prominent New York at- torney Ed Labaton wrote the following to the American Jewish Committee in con- demning their opposition t) the legislation: "The insur- ance policies at issuewere sold to individuals, paid for by me, and women who tried to pr(,- tect their families. Our leg: l system provides remedk s to those injured by preda- tory practices of insurance companies and others who exploit their financial powr to cheat consumers. Ho- locaust survivors, and the legal heirs of other victims, should have the sole right to decide for themselves how to reclaim their family lega- cies. Does AJC really believe the trauma of the Holocaust gives self-appointed NGOs the right to step in and deny the actual victims their full rights as American citizens to control these legacies?" To that, I would add: Does Rosensaft believe he has such a right? We survivors do  think so. David Mermelstein is a Auschwitz survivor, who wa ; born in Kivjazd Czechosle- vakia, later annexed by Hur gary. He lives in Miami, ar is the vice president of tt Holocaust Survivors Found tion USA. This op-ed first appeared the Jewish Journal of Great Los Angeles and is distribut by with the permi sion of David Mermelstein. is a response to the followb op-ed: article201206273099241 op-ed-crafting-a-holocaust- insurance-solution-that-wor$