Outsider on the Inside
Reflections on our society by an Israeli born filmmaker

IN THE NAME OF THE VICTIMS

 David in Mea Shearim

As some of you already know, the film In the Name of  the Victims is now being streamed on our site. Just go to the home page and click on In the Name of the Victims on the right. 

The response to the film has been tremendous. More than 150 people stream the film daily and the numbers are climbing. Teaming up with  groups of Holocaust survivors we want to do much more. Soon we will be able to post survivors’ testimonies about their situation, recorded hearings in Congress, as well  as filmed  meetings  with government officials. We believe that nothing  will change until survivors  will organize  to speak in their own name . After years  in which the Israeli government neglected  holocaust survivors,  it finally caved in  last summer and agreed to a financial settlement that will address some of the survivors’  concerns.  This was achieved only after the survivors got organized and began a public campaign in their name. We want  the same to happen here.  However in the United States , unlike Israel, the only address for survivors is the Claims Conference, the body which is supposed to represent “World Jewry in its material claims against Germany”.

The Claims Conference is the subject of our filmed investigation.

The Claims Conference

In the Name of the Victims investigates some of the Claims Conference’s activities and its allocation of funds. The film was first broadcast in Germany on May 25, 2007 . The broadcast prompted the Claims Conference to write on May 31st a harsh letter of complaint (please see attached) which was copied to the President of ZDF,  one of the two Public Television channels in Germany, as well as to Dr. Korn “from the central board of Jews”. The author of the letter, Georg Heuberger, Representative of the Claims Conference in Germany, concludes  it with a barely veiled threat “ The points discussed herein have been sent to Dr. Salomon Korn along with a copy of the film and I have asked him to bring up this matter with the ZDF board”.

 The letter provides a unique insight into the organization’s smoke screen of  half truths and manipulation of facts. But do not  accept my word for it. Please read  for yourself  my very detailed response  to Mr. Georg Heuberger’s letter. ( My original letter is long and needed to be shortened since it is too detailed for an average reader). I am also including the cover letter sent by  the head of ARTE/ZDF, the department that  was responsible for the film.

Our letters were sent on the July 26, 2007 . We have not heard from anyone until a few weeks ago when at 4am David Michaelis (the main chracter in our film) was woken up by a surprise call from Lothar Fremy, his German lawyer . The news from his lawyer was indeed surprising . Lothar Fremy told him that he himself was surprised earlier in the day to receive a call from the Claims Conference’s Frankfurt office  in which he was  told  that they now  view David’s case positively and are seeking an early resolution. Fremy also said that he was told that  the Frankfurt office was “ under pressure from New York” to resolve the case quickly. Now here is some background so you will see why the news was indeed shocking.

David’s Case.

Lothar Fremy had surprised David Michaelis more than 3 years earlier with the news that he was one of the owners of a large apartment and office building in one of East Berlin’s most desired neighborhoods. There was a problem however since David did not apply by the deadline imposed by the German government, the property was therefore taken over by the Claims Conference which had already went ahead and sold it. David had only one recourse left and that was to apply to the Claims Conference “Good Will” fund, a fund whose regulations are indeed imposed soley by the Claims Conference “ Good Will” . Legally the Claims Conference  has become  the sole owner of all “unclaimed Jewish properties” in Germany. For more than a year David and his lawyer did not hear from the “Good Will “ fund until literally before we filmed in Berlin in April 2006. Lothar Fremy described to the camera the letter he had just received from the Claims Conference:

We put the application to the Good Will fund a long time ago, almost a year and it was finally decided but not in your favor. But only in the favor of one of the heirs. Because the Jewish Claim Conference says that though you are entitled to inherit your part by German law but not according to their regulations.”

In simple English the letter says that though David is the sole survivor of his family he is not eligible for his share. The will which Fremy found indeed  mentioned David’s grandmother as one of the inheritors of the building. The will  is recognized by German law as indeed it would be by the law of any country on the planet.

Mr. Georg Heuberger , the Representative of the Claims Conference in Germany, confirmed David ‘s unfortunate status more than a year later in his May 25, 2007 letter to ZDF:

The journalist, David Michaelis, takes the lead throughout the programme with a detective like attitude, accompanied by a personally affected applicant whose application was denied according to the regulations of the Claims Conference goodwill funds”.

So what happened a few months later? Why suddenly such a reversal of fortunes? Without engaging in speculations, this new development ,at the very least, testifies to the arbitrary nature of the Claims Conference’s “Good Will” fund. The organization has no “due process” that claimants can really understand and depend on. Legally the Claims Conference might be able to get away with it, but it is a betrayal of the public trust. It was that trust that was the basis of the Claims Conference’s orginal  agreement with the German government in 1952 . This legal precedent was used in 1990 when the Conference negotiated with the German government the fate of hundreds of millions of dollars of pre war Jewish property in Germany that had been looted by the Nazis. David was definitely a “squeaky wheel” . So they did what they frequently do to get rid of trouble: play around with the “rules.”

Netty Gross, the Jerusalem Report ‘s correspondent, told us in Israel about dozens of such cases that she has witnessed in over a decade of following the story. As you can see from my rebuttal letter, once the cover of the Pandora box was removed, hundreds of questions emerge.

Our film scratched only the tip of the iceberg. Visit In the Name of the Victims page for new visual material and new questions. Visit the Holocaust Survivors Foundation -USA (www.hsf-usa.org) for more news and updates on political organizing and how you could get involved.

Until the next time

Ilan Ziv

PS . The English version that is being streamed and broadcast was prepared by the film distributor from the original text I provided them. I was not involved in its preparation and was dismayed to discover a few small errors, in particular in the segment dealing with the historical background. None of these details have anything to do with the cases mentioned or change the accuracy of the overall historical presentation. Regardless I will post the corrections in few days.

In the Name of the Victims Trailer

claims_conference_letter.doc

ilan-ziv-response-to-the-claims-conference-letter.doc

zdf-response.doc

 

 

 

 

 

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