Germany and the Jewish Claims Conference signed a new groundbreaking accord Thursday to help elderly Holocaust survivors who had never received compensation, most of them living in eastern Europe.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and JCC chief Julius Berman attended a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement under which West Germany assumed responsibility for the Nazis' crimes and paid reparations.
During the solemn event at Berlin's Jewish Museum, they sealed a new pact widening the group of people to receive payments, taking in survivors long ineligible because they lived behind the Iron Curtain, and tailoring compensation to ageing recipients' needs.
A picture of inmates behind barbed wire at the Auschwitz concentration camp, taken in 1945 when the Nazi death camp in Poland was liberated. Germany and the Jewish Claims Conference signed a new groundbreaking accord Thursday to help elderly Holocaust survivors who had never received compensation, most of them living in eastern Europe.
"The Holocaust survivors who are alive today were young when they emerged from the ashes, but much older before their time," Berman said.
"Old age is hard enough, but many survivors are now feeling in full the effects of the starvation and forced labor of their youths. Their finances have suffered from the years of lost education and lost family assets. And with their careers and child rearing behind them, they have more time alone with their memories of terror and loss."
Under the agreement, an additional 80,000 Holocaust survivors in eastern Europe will receive compensation. It also formalises an entitlement for about 100,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis to home care services.
"This is direct assistance which will immediately benefit those concerned," Schaeuble said. "In so doing, Germany is renewing its commitment to its historical responsibility towards Jewish victims of the Holocaust."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (right) and Julius Berman, Chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany sign a revised version of the Article 2 (Claims Conference) during a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Luxenbourg Agreement on November 15, 2012 in Berlin.
Schaeuble noted that the task of ensuring reparations to all survivors was complicated by the unfathomable dimensions of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered, and that payments were a gesture that could only fall short in light of their suffering.
"The crime of the Holocaust was so unimaginably huge that we don't know the names of all of those killed, nor of all those who are entitled to make claims and that is why we have to keep making adjustments," he told Berlin public broadcaster rbb-inforadio earlier.
The JCC has worked to ensure compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution since 1951 and fights for the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.
It says there are around 500,000 Holocaust survivors still alive today.
Thursday's agreement was an update of an extension dating from 1992, two years after Germany reunified following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A person walks past concrete steles of the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe on January 31 in Berlin. "The crime of the Holocaust was so unimaginably huge that we don't know the names of all of those killed, nor of all those who are entitled to make claims and that is why we have to keep making adjustments," German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday.
Jewish victims of the Nazis who have never received compensation will get an immediate payment of about 2,500 euros ($3,190).
Those who spent at least three months in a concentration camp or ghetto or spent six months in hiding are entitled to a monthly pension of 300 euros.
The JCC estimates the accord will cost Berlin about $300 million.
Under the Luxembourg Agreement signed on September 10, 1952, West Germany accepted responsibility for the Nazi genocide and paid more than three billion marks (about 1.5 billion euros) to the state of Israel and the JCC.
It was widely seen as West Germany's first major step back into the community of nations after World War II.
The communist East German government saw itself as a bulwark against fascism and rejected any claim to liability for the Nazis' crimes.
To date, Germany has paid an estimated $70 billion to Holocaust survivors and programmes that aid survivors, according to the JCC.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former US ambassador to the European Union who now serves as a special negotiator for the JCC, said Germany was exemplary in living up to its historical crimes.
"Never before or since has a defeated nation paid individuals for wartime injuries," he said.
"For 60 years, post-war Germany has been writing a new chapter in world history in which its people can say to the world that 'What we did was unforgivable, but what we have done to compensate our victims has been unique.'"