Our $42.5 million failure

Our $42.5 million failure

Tuesday’s announcement that 17 people, including former and current employees of the Claims Conference, were arrested for defrauding the fund providing restitution to Holocaust survivors should be a wake-up call to American Jews — and the message is we’re not doing our job.
At least, we’re not doing one of our jobs, but it’s our moral responsibility to do it.
The Claims Conference distributes more than $400 million per year from the German government to victims of Nazism, so the theft of $42.5 million, which occurred over a 16-year period, may seem like a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
It’s that time period that bothers us — 16 years.
How could this happen?
Because we let it.
We failed the survivors.
As time moves further and further from the Holocaust period, and as more survivors pass away, we don’t feel the same intensity to complete the unfinished business from that time — namely, to take care of our own.
We’re very good at Holocaust education (though not so good at making sure it never happens again, witness Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur) but we’ve let slide the business of the post-Holocaust era, distracted by more urgent issues such as resurgent anti-Semitism and keeping the next generation of Jews connected.
This paper and other publications are just as culpable as the rest of the community; we haven’t monitored the Claims Conference news as carefully as we should. We chalked it up as a clerical issue, one that needs to get done, but doesn’t need so much media attention as it once received.
That ends now.
We pledge to be more vigilant in the future in covering news related to Holocaust era claims.
But that’s only part of it. The community at large — Pittsburgh and beyond — must demand greater accountability and greater transparency as a result of this incident.
According to the indictment unsealed Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, those charged allegedly used fake identification documents, doctored government records and a knowledge of Holocaust history to defraud the fund.
That’s a good place to begin. Who checks these records? How are they checked? What redundancies are built in to prevent this sort of thing?
One of the defendants apparently oversaw two funds from which tens of millions of dollars were allegedly stolen. Who did he answer to? How were these funds audited?
Claims Conference officials, uh, claim, that no Holocaust victims were deprived of the money due them because of this crime. That’s a relief, but it’s not enough.
There needs to be a public inquiry, headed by an independent commission. The Jewish media needs to follow it carefully; so does the rest of the Jewish world. We need to track what findings comes out of that commission, and what changes are made.
We owe to those who lost so much. Let’s not fail them.