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Germany will pay more than $1.4 billion next year to survivors of Nazi atrocities

In this 2020 photo, survivors walk below a gate with the inscription "Work sets you free" after a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial site of the former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz during ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation in Oswiecim, Poland.
Janek Skarzynski
/
AFP via Getty Images
In this 2020 photo, survivors walk below a gate with the inscription "Work sets you free" after a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial site of the former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz during ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation in Oswiecim, Poland.

The German government will pay more than $1.4 billion next year to Holocaust survivors, in the latest compensation for atrocities and persecution inflicted by the Nazis.

Nearly $890 million will go toward home care services — an increasingly vital aspect of the reparation effort, as the Nazis' victims advance in age, nearly 80 years after the Holocaust ended.

The payments stem from annual negotiations between Germany's Federal Ministry of Finance and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an organization representing Jewish Holocaust survivors also known as the Claims Conference. The funds are meant to help survivors live in dignity, decades after they were persecuted and lost loved ones and property.

"Every year these negotiations become more and more critical as this last generation of Holocaust survivors age and their needs increase," Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference's executive vice president, said in a news release about the deal.

Money includes direct payments and hardship funds

As of September 2022, an estimated 280,000 Holocaust survivors were living in countries around the world, the Claims Conference said.

The money for 2024 includes $535 million in direct payments to survivors, ranging from monthly pensions to a one-time annual payment of 1,250 euros ($1,365) per person.

The compensation payment slated for 2024 eclipses the more than $1.2 billion Germany agreed to pay in 2023.

Restitution amounts have risen sharply since 2015, the German government notes, when the annual package was valued around 510 million euros (about $557 million, at today's exchange rate).

Part of the reason for the recent increase lies in the pandemic. Since COVID-19 struck, Germany has been making one-off annual hardship payments to eligible survivors. Payments under that package were scheduled to stop in December, but the government agreed to keep the program running through at least 2027.

"The survivors receiving these [hardship] payments largely include Jews from the former Soviet Union who were not in camps or ghettos and are not eligible for pension programs," according to the Claims Conference. "These survivors fled the Einsatzgruppen — Nazi mobile killing units charged with murdering entire Jewish communities. More than 1 million Jews were killed by these units, which operated largely by shooting hundreds and thousands of Jews at a time and burying them in mass pits."

Germany has paid compensation and restitution for decades

As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes, 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, along with millions more civilians and soldiers from the former Soviet Union, and people who were Polish, Serbian or from the Roma minority. The Nazis also orchestrated the wholesale murders of people with disabilities and homosexuals.

The Claims Conference has been pursuing reparations from the German government since 1951, when it was founded by a coalition of Jewish organizations, and has secured more than $90 billion in payments.

A decade ago, the Claims Conference was rocked by a fraud scandal, in which insiders of the New York-based group were charged with siphoning money and creating thousands of bogus claims. Justice Department officials said that it was the Claims Conference itself that brought the fraud to the attention of the FBI, in 2009.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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