US House calls on Germany to ‘fulfill moral obligation’ to Holocaust survivors

Resolution urges Berlin to reaffirm financial commitment to fully address unique needs of victims of Nazi regime

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Holocaust survivors walk with others through the main gate of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Poland, on January 27, 2016 (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
Holocaust survivors walk with others through the main gate of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Poland, on January 27, 2016 (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday evening to pass a resolution calling upon Germany to increase restitution support for Holocaust survivors in what one of the legislation’s sponsors described as a last chance to support the dwindling number of Nazi victims.

The resolution, passed unanimously by a vote of 363-0 with strong support on both sides of the aisle, was sponsored by a bipartisan team of south Florida representatives – Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat Ted Deutch.

Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Ros-Lehtinen said that around one-quarter of the slightly over 500,000 living Holocaust survivors in the world live in the US, and some 15,000 of those live in south Florida.

Ros-Lehtinen noted that more than half of all survivors worldwide live at or below the poverty level, but expressed hope that Tuesday’s vote would help alleviate some of the pressure.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) (photo credit: courtesy)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) (photo credit: courtesy)

“Today, the House once again demonstrated its commitment to achieving justice for all Holocaust survivors in overwhelmingly passing the resolution Ted and I introduced, urging Germany to honor its obligations to Holocaust survivors,” Ros-Lehtinen said shortly after the resolution passed. “It’s been over 71 years since the end of World War II, and even though they’ve lived through the unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the Nazis, Holocaust survivors today continue to face lingering injustices. It would be a travesty if humanity once again failed these individuals by ignoring their plight.”

“The current system is broken and full of fraud and corruption; the Claims Conference has failed survivors, placing caps on assistance and adding unnecessary burdens on those in dire need of assistance,” the Florida congresswoman continued. “Germany needs to show its leadership and do the right thing by fulfilling its commitments and obligations to all survivors by taking action to provide mental health, medical and home care needs for all survivors directly and immediately. Time is of the essence and survivors can no longer afford these delays – they deserve to live out the remainder of their days in the dignity and comfort they deserve.”

In hearings on the resolution, Ros-Lehtinen argued that although Germany has assisted survivors since the 1950s, “even by its own admission, the German government’s efforts to address the medical, mental and home care needs of all Holocaust survivors have been woefully inadequate.”

Ros-Lehtinen told her colleagues Tuesday that frequently, Holocaust survivors’ needs are more complex and costly than many others of their generation due to the psychological and physical impact of their wartime experiences.

Speaking after Ros-Lehtinen, Deutch warned representatives that “time is sadly very much of the essence.”

“Holocaust survivors are not receiving the care that they need,” he complained. “For decades, the German government has been committed to responding to survivor needs, but the survivor community is aging and their needs are greater.”

Ted Deutch (Courtesy)
Ted Deutch (Courtesy)

Deutch emphasized that many survivors lack the family support to assist mobility and that many need in-home care, after their war experiences left them terrified of leaving their homes and being placed in a caregiving institution.

Under the current system, Deutch said, even the poorest survivors are only entitled to 25 hours of home care every week – a gap addressed by the resolution which also calls for an end to limitations on home care hours.

The resolution states that it aims to ensure “that all Holocaust victims live with dignity, comfort, and security in their remaining years.” It calls on Germany “to reaffirm its commitment to this goal through a financial commitment to comprehensively address the unique health and welfare needs of vulnerable Holocaust victims, including home care and other medically prescribed needs.”

The resolution was drafted following 2015 correspondence on the subject between Congress and the German Finance Ministry. The resolution’s supporters said that in this correspondence, Germany acknowledged that the care financed by the German government was insufficient to address survivors’ needs.

The House resolution was intended to emphasize Congress’s demand for additional aid, which Ros-Lehtinen stressed, emphasized the need for direct assistance to survivors — aid which the sponsors said was urgently needed. “We expect the German government to hear what we are saying,” Deutch proclaimed during a floor speech Tuesday.

“In the coming days, decisions will be made in Berlin that will determine whether survivors will receive the funding and the care that they need,” Deutch explained. “I’m not sure that our ally Germany recognizes the true scope of the need.”

“It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge that these negotiations are the last opportunity for Germany to address the health and wellbeing of these survivors,” he warned.

“While no amount of money can erase the horrors of Holocaust victims, there is a moral responsibility to fulfill all the needs so that they can live out the rest of their lives with dignity,” he added.

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