Holocaust survivors from Leningrad among 6,500 now eligible for German pensions

Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Romania, southern France also to get monthly stipends for 1st time; Claims Conference: ‘For many survivors, the funds will relieve crushing poverty’

This file photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dig up water from a broken main, during the 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders (AP Photo, File)
This file photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dig up water from a broken main, during the 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders (AP Photo, File)

Some 6,500 Holocaust survivors who lived through the siege of Leningrad, hid in Nazi-occupied France or survived persecution in Romania are newly eligible to receive pension allowances from Germany, it was announced Wednesday.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), which negotiates reparations, restitution and other compensation claims on behalf of Holocaust victims, said in a statement that the survivors will receive a monthly stipend for the first time with a value of $443.

The organization said that payments would be made to Jewish victims of the Nazis who lived for at least three months in the Siege of Leningrad or lived for at least three months between April 1, 1941 and August 31, 1944 under occupation in Romania.

The third group eligible were those who lived at least three months in hiding in France, including those with access to the outside world. The organization stated as an example Jews in southern France who were able to move around during the day but hid at night when deportations took place.

Those who were children at the time — born after 1928 and meeting the criteria — will receive a one-time payment of $2,930.

Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, said in the statement that the payouts were increasingly crucial as survivors age, and helped to give them a little dignity.

“Every year these negotiations become more and more critical, as this last generation of survivors age, their needs increase. We are thrilled to be able to expand the criteria for survivors again this year, including the first-time pensions for nearly 6,500 survivors,” Taylor said. “Even 75 years after the Holocaust, these symbolic payments provide recognition and restore a piece of the dignity taken from survivors in their youth.”

Gideon Taylor of the Claims Conference/WJRO (courtesy)

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said that the funds were desperately needed by many of the survivors.

“These accomplishments are deeply important symbols of Germany’s recognition of suffering, and for many of these survivors the funds will also relieve crushing poverty, which requires survivors to choose between food, medicine, or rent,” he said.

One of recipients of the new monthly pension is Nonna Revzina, a 85-year-old woman who now lives in a Jewish senior citizen home in Berlin.

The retired librarian still remembers the beginning of the Leningrad siege by the Nazis in September 1941, when she was five years old. She still trembles when she recalls how she watched the events unfold from the sixth floor of her tenement building, when the city came under bombardment from Nazi forces, supply lines were cut off and hundreds of thousands died.

During an interview with the AP in her one-room apartment, Revzina wiped off her tears as she talked about her father, who died of hunger and illness during the siege in 1942, and whose body her mother took away on a sled to a place nearby where hundreds of dead bodies were piled up. She still does not know where her father was buried.

The siege of Leningrad, the Russian city now called St. Petersburg, lasted nearly 2½ years until the Soviet Army drove away the Germans on January 27, 1944.

Estimates of the death toll vary, but historians agree that more than 1 million Leningrad residents died from hunger or air and artillery bombardments during the siege.

“But in addition to all of that, there were extra measures that the Germans did against Jews,” Schneider said, such as the Nazis dropping leaflets into the city urging residents to identify Jews and throw them out or sending spies into the city to try create riots and then blaming that on the Jews.

“In the midst of this huge military battle, the Nazis were thinking not only about the Russians, not only about conquering Leningrad, but they were actually thinking about how to destroy the Jews and kill the Jews who were living in the city,” Schneider said.

Revzina said she was well aware that “had the Nazis conquered the city, all of us Jews would have been murdered immediately.”

The Russian woman immigrated to Germany in 1996, where her two adult children had moved a few years before her. In Berlin, Revzina helped raise her three grandchildren.

With the end of World War II now 76 years ago, Holocaust survivors are all elderly, and because many were deprived of proper nutrition when they were young today they suffer from numerous medical issues. In addition, many live isolated lives having lost their families in the war and also have a psychological burden due to their persecution under the Nazis.

Many Holocaust survivors came out of the war with nothing and are still impoverished today.

Part of the Claims Conference’s annual negotiations includes working with Germany to expand the number of people eligible for compensation.

Some of the 6,500 survivors who will start getting pensions now already received one-time payments in the past but that will not bar them from receiving the new benefits, the Claims Conference said.

Since 1952, the German government has paid about $90 billion to individuals for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. In 2021, the Claims Conference will distribute approximately $625 million in direct compensation to over 260,000 survivors in 83 countries and will allocate approximately $640 million in grants to over 300 social service agencies worldwide that provide services for Holocaust survivors.

For Revzina, another 375 euros a month will allow her to enjoy the small pleasures of life that she wasn’t able to afford.

“The pension is very helpful for me,” she said. “I like going to cafes. I can do that more often now.”

Her granddaughter Lana Solovej was thrilled about the new pension.

“This is great news for her,” said the 23-year-old university student, who often helps her grandmother with daily household errands. “The new pension will make a great difference for my grandmother.”

A survey earlier this year found that over half of the Holocaust survivors living in Israel require food handouts, with many saying they don’t have the funds to pay for essentials such as eyeglasses and hearing aids.

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