Will the Claims Conference Board Act Before it is Too Late?…asks Isi Leibler

July 2, 2013 by Isi Leibler
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On July 8, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (the Claims Conference), the wealthiest Jewish organization in the world, will hold its annual board meeting behind closed doors.

Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler

Board members will be obliged to respond to scandals about their organization that have been widely circulated throughout the media, casting shame on the entire Jewish community. The most serious issue under review will be the lack of accountability in relation to $57+ million stolen by 17 employees, including a high ranking administrator, over a 16-year period under the very noses of senior executives at the head office.

Until now, instead of accepting responsibility for the breakdown in oversight,  management has manipulated the board into passing shameless resolutions praising itself, and circulating self-serving letters from directors claiming that “the organization is well led, well governed, well-staffed and manages its restitution funds in a manner consistent with best practice and probity.”

In contrast to mandatory procedures within public institutions accused of lesser frauds, Claims Conference management has frenziedly resisted efforts to set up an independent review to ascertain, among other issues, whether negligence was a contributing factor. It has also brushed aside calls for an independent review to discover whether there are additional skeletons in the closet.

In addition, management has refused to consider appeals to freeze allocations of discretionary funds in order to ensure that there is support to enable elderly, ailing Holocaust survivors to live out their remaining years with dignity.

But with the latest revelations and scandals, board members will be obliged to cease acting as rubber stamps or may face the intervention of outside bodies which monitor the management of charitable funds, and find themselves open to charges of having failed to exercise their fiduciary obligations.

Board members uncertain how to respond, should heed the call of the Claims Conference’s First Vice President, Jewish Agency Chairperson Natan Sharansky, who has stated that “we cannot investigate ourselves or our colleagues or our benefactors,” and who, in no uncertain terms, has demanded that a genuinely “independent public committee composed of distinguished individuals who are not connected to the board or its beneficiary organizations examine all the events surrounding this unfortunate embezzlement…and examine Claims Conference procedures and its structure” in order “to resolve the doubts and concerns” regarding this body that prevail throughout the Jewish world so “that the public trust can be restored.”

They should also pay attention to Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, who was the first to demand that the Chairman of the Claims Conference, Julius Berman, directly respond to specific questions relating to the latest allegations, and instructed his organization to undertake a review of the Claims Conference.

This will not be an easy task for board members. The damaging new disclosures published in recent weeks in The Jerusalem Post, The Forward and the JTA have caused widespread shock.

In particular, allegations that senior management leaders failed to adequately investigate details of fraud that had been brought to their attention as far back as 2001, are highly disturbing. The accusation that both Chairman Berman and CEO, Greg Schneider, were warned about the scam, but failed to follow up, is what caused some to question senior leadership.

More damning, however, is that it appears that neither Berman nor Schneider disclosed their prior knowledge of the fraud to the board, and, when confronted, engaged in deliberate attempts to cover up their involvement and failure to follow up.

If confirmed, such a cover-up would represent a major breach of governance, not to mention a public embarrassment of the highest order, especially in view of management’s portrayal of itself as a paragon of organizational morality.

A few months ago, during the trial of the embezzlers, a court transcript quoted CEO Schneider expressing “shock” over the $57+ million fraud. Yet, when confronted with the existence of an anonymous letter from 2001 warning of the fraud, the Claims Conference spokespersons released a series of conflicting statements, and ultimately apportioned blame exclusively to a German manager who died in 2004; what they failed to reveal was that Berman himself, then Counsel to the Claims Conference, had been commissioned to investigate the fraud allegations in 2001.

In a widely disseminated, self-incriminating, 11-page memorandum attacking his critics rather than addressing the charges against him, Berman ironically highlights his failure to responsibly administer the duties of the Chairman of an organization dispensing restitution funds.

His arrogance and failure to pursue sound governance and organizational transparency is highlighted by his boast that he refused to examine incriminating evidence I provided him some years ago – evidence that was subsequently verified by the New York Attorney General.

He also misleadingly implies that the FBI, by conducting a criminal investigation, effectively validated Claims Conference oversight of funds.
To make matters worse, Berman justified his refusal to apologize for the theft of the $57+ million on the grounds that it was German taxpayers’ money, and did not have an impact on recipients’ restitution. Such an unconscionable remark in itself provides sufficient grounds for deeming Berman unfit to hold a leadership role in the organization.

Regrettably, Berman fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Rather than allow an independent investigation, he has set up a bureaucratic procedure that relies on the discredited technique of appointing an internal committee comprised of handpicked loyalists to review the issue.

To offset demands for an independent investigation, this internal committee has requested that the Claims Conference Ombudsman, an employee of the Claims Conference whose contract will soon be reviewed for renewal, determine what has transpired. The Ombudsman will report to the internal committee, which, in turn, will make a recommendation to the board. This process hardly qualifies as an independent review, and certainly will not address the primary issue of accountability.

Furthermore, the Claims Conference board has not been informed as to what the Ombudsman was instructed to scrutinize, and whether his brief will include Berman’s and Schneider’s alleged cover-up of their prior exposure to the fraud.

There are already bitter complaints that the Ombudsman’s findings and the committee’s recommendations are being suppressed prior to the board meeting. But even worse, in what can only be described as an unconscionable action, the board agenda just circulated, lists the report as the very last item on the two day meeting even after the election of the incoming leadership team. Aside from making a mockery of governance and due process, relegating such a crucial issue relating to accountability and allegations of a cover up to the end of the meeting, demonstrates that the leaders continue operating the organization like their personal fiefdom and treat the directors with utter contempt.

It is therefore no surprise that last week, noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt pessimistically predicted that nothing would change and that none of the leaders would even relinquish their positions, saying “Have they lost all sense of decency, if not shame?”

One test as to whether the Claims Conference is willing to undertake reform or face intervention from an external monitoring body, is whether Julius Berman will continue to insist that he remain Chairman of the Board, despite the many reasons he should step down: his arrogance in running the organization like a private fiefdom; his failure to establish genuine governance and organizational transparency; his unwillingness to intervene to ensure a greater flow of funds to aging Holocaust survivors, and his alleged failures relating to the $57+ million fraud. Berman has occupied the position of Chairman for more than11 years; it is time for him to go.

But it is not just Berman who must accept responsibility and take action. Greg Schneider and all those responsible for failures of oversight must be held accountable, including those who participated in the cover-up by withholding information from the board, breaching a fundamental principle of organizational governance.

If Berman possesses a modicum of consideration for the well-being of the Claims Conference, he will realize that in retaining the chairmanship in the current climate, he will be acting solely to promote his ego, and will be displaying utter contempt for the standing and reputation of this crucial organization. If he does not appreciate this, board members purportedly representing world Jewry have the obligation to ensure that he step down, graciously or otherwise.

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.


7 Responses to “Will the Claims Conference Board Act Before it is Too Late?…asks Isi Leibler”
  1. This debacle is an embarrassment to world Jewry. For G-ds sake, has everyone lost their minds. Would these shameless people just look at themselves. I am a daughter of a Hungarian Auschwitz Survivor, and a Hungarian Slave labor prisoner. Claims Conference and their representatives came humbly begging my parents and other survivors to testify and submit signatures in order to help negotiate reparations, to ease their heavy burdens. We the 2nd generation, their children were told by our parents that Claims Conference was their advocate, that we were to focus on school, and in due time it would be ok. Little did our trusting parents know that they were being exploited, that they were used.. in order to justify the big payout. Heads of CC and other organizations are the true recipients of the monies. Survivors, most received a big 0, and told by CC and their offshoot representatives, such as Self Help, to go on the USA doles, on welfare. By golly, my parents would never do that, never ib a million years, not a chance, not a way to show gratitude to the country that opened it’s arms to them, the country that truly gave them a new beginning. CC is a huge and mighty organization, with a powerful board, so is there likelihood that Survivors will ever see Justice. Well, hopefully, but ultimately, there is a higher authority.

  2. bernhard says:

    Subject: Holocaust survivors struggling from day to day

    Thought for the Day by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    With so many Holocaust survivors struggling from day to day, one has to wonder why there isn’t enough funding from the Jewish Claims Conference to help them?

    The Board and leadership of the Conference obviously have other priorities. Among them include funding for:

    •A National School Curriculum for the South African Holocaust Centre
    •A Fellowship in Advanced Shoah Studies for those seeking doctoral degrees in Shoah Studies
    •Travel programs to take students to Holocaust related sites

    And let’s not forget the $22,500 to produce a collection of filmed interviews with ten postwar Yiddish writers.

    Shame on Conference Chairman, Julius Berman, Executive Vice President, Greg Schneider and each Board member whose names I have listed below. You have all lost your moral compass.

    Abraham Biderman, Pinkas Kornfeld, Ady Steg, Joseph Toledano, Sam Bloch, Max Liebmann, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Marc Stern, Alan Pines,

    Jack Rosen, Alan H. Gill, Asher Ostrin, William Hess, Rev. Salomon L. Vaz Dias, Michael Hilsenrath, Clemens Nathan,

    Allan J. Jacobs, Daniel S. Mariaschin, Paul Edlin, Ben Helfgott, Keith Landy, Sidney Zoltak, Colette Avital, Abraham Rosental,

    Roger Cukierman, Serge Klarsfeld, Reuven Merhav, Raymond VJ Schrag, Victor Mauro Garelik, Julio Schlosser, Mikhail Chlenov,

    Semen Gologorskiy, Marguerite Zauberman, Rabbi Yaacov Bleich, Robert Goot, Danny Lamm, Avraham Duvdevani,

    Natan Sharansky, Arieh Lebowitz, Mary Kluk, Mervyn Smith, Max Arpels Lezer, Stefanie Seltzer, Ronald S. Lauder,

    Michael Schneider, Michael Blake, Nigel Ross, Donald S. Day, Shai Pinto,Stephan Kramer, Abraham Lehrer, Uri Chanoch,

    Chaim Chesler, Jehuda Evron, Alla Gerber, Yehoshua Gross, Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, Roman Kent, Yona Laks,

    Ayala Procaccia, Baruch Shub, Yaacov Zitser

  3. BERNHARD says:

    The Claims Conference will only respond to the authorities. No amount of letters, e-mails or inquiring members of the press will get them to react. Those who are critical of the Conference are using the wrong tactic. The only way to unite everyone is through a criminal prosecution which would obviously remove Messrs. Berman and Schneider from the management.

    We know the majority of the Conference Board supports Berman and Schneider and the recent FBI investigation was not concerned with the management of the Conference. Therefore, the New York Attorney General must get involved and pursue an action against the Conference leadership for their failure to handle the fiduciary responsibilities expected from the leadership of a 501c organization. The Holocaust community can scream bloody murder about the injustices, but nothing will happen unless the authorities intervene. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  4. BERNHARD says:

    I have been relentless in attempting to force the Holocaust Claims Conference to reevaluate and change their methods. At least they are enacting these corrections. However, why shouldn’t the money they have in their possession be distributed immediately to Holocaust survivors? There are precious few survivors left . Soon they will be gone. Only the youngest are still alive. My father, Jacob survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald passed away thirty years ago. My mother, survivor of Skarzish and Buchenwald passed away twenty years ago. I ask every Holocaust survivor reading this to protest to the claims conference or their attorneys and ask what is happening with the funds. Twenty per cent of these funds goes to birthright, Holocaust museums, writers etc. Soon I will reveal the different organizations receiving money from the Claims Conference. Why is a Nazi receiving compensation from the Claims Conference after his identity as a Nazi was revealed? Why are individuals who are not really Holocaust survivors but were added to the list, receiving funds?

    It is your money and you deserve it now. How is it possible for Holocaust survivors to be in need of food and medications when the Claims conference holds so much money.

    I am only one person. You must speak up now.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  5. BERNhard says:


    The shenanigans going on with the Holocaust Claims Conference and the daily reports in various newspapers is reprehensible. If I were not a child of Holocaust survivors and Jewish I would truly develop anti Semitic feelings and be jealous with hatred of the Jewish people. Why? Jews have been hated throughout history because non Jews believe we control the financial world and find every possible method to steal money from others.

    . I am sixty five years old and was born in a DP camp.. My parents, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald died when I was relatively young. Except for a cousin, their entire families perished in the Holocaust and all their property including land and businesses was taken from them. Any elderly Holocaust survivor who is in need of food, medicine or financial assistance which Germany just made available should receive the additional funding through the Holocaust Claims Conference.

    Due to the mishandling and theft involved with the Holocaust Claims Conference the world is regarding the entire Jewish population as thieves. Is this the legacy we want after many of us lost most of our families to the Nazis?

    While I realize Holocaust survivors will say that the money given by Germany belongs to them, I can suggest other venues where this money would help the children, grandchildren and future generations of those who suffered in the Holocaust. There certainly are many Holocaust survivors who financially did well after the war. I am sure they would also like to see funding from the Holocaust Claims conference used for the Jewish education of their children and future generations. How many Rabbinical Theological schools offer courses in Holocaust history or education? This is the way to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and those who died. Day schools are in desperate need of financial assistance and synagogues are having financial problems. Many young Jewish families, especially Religious families are struggling to keep kosher, send their children to Yeshivas, support synagogues and purchase homes in religious neighborhoods.

    Are we going to allow the same leadership of the Holocaust Claims Conference to misappropriate and mismanage funds to the point where over fifty million dollars was stolen? It is time for new leadership. Unless others join me in speaking out, ten years from now we will be reading about more theft and misuse of funds while most of the Holocaust will have died.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  6. Carl Minuskin says:

    Thank you Mr. Leibler for that informative article. I agree with you totally.
    Mr. Berman needs to be ousted immediately. He and his managers should start paying restitution for the millions lost.
    Carl M.

  7. BERNHARD says:

    Barry Resnick

    June 27, 2013

    Rabbi DR. Bernhard Rosenberg has been an advocate for Holocaust survivors for years. He is also the only rabbi I know of who is willing to take a stand critical of the Claims Conference leadership. I urge you to follow his writings and speeches that can be found on the internet and stand behind him in fighting for our elderly survivors.

    Is It True the Claims Conference May Be Paying Reparations to an alleged Nazi sympathizer?

    An Open Letter to Claims Conference Chairman, Rabbi Julius Berman

    by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    Two years ago, I read an article about Alex Kurzem in a Melbourne newspaper. Having watched the “60 minutes” segment in horror and disbelief, I’ve followed this story and the Jewish Claims Conference’s involvement.

    As a Rabbi, I am ashamed by the Conference’s lack of scrutiny in its determination of Kurzem’s eligibility for reparations – based purely on a tall tale, which now appears even to have included a fraudulent document! Surely, the Conference has a fiduciary responsibility and owes those who truly were persecuted by the Nazis, to be thorough and discriminating in its validation of veracity. It did not fulfill that responsibility.

    Please explain to me, how it is you have been aware of the doubts and inaccuracies of Mr. Kurzem’s story since 2009, yet have done nothing about rescinding his reparations?

    How does the Claims Conference accept, tolerate, and apparently condone, that in 1972, Kurzem provided an affidavit endorsing the good character of Nazi SS Colonel Karlis Lobe?

    Please help me understand the inconsistency in the Haaretz article appearing last year, where Greg Schneider was quoted as saying no fraud was found in Kurzem’s application.Yet in the same article, Kurzem claims he never said he “was Ilya Galperin” , the person he claimed to be when filling out his application for reparations.

    How does the Conference define persecution? In a 2008 Penthouse article Kurzem is quoted as saying, the Nazis were “my family”, “I felt safe; I wasn’t hungry and I was looked after”. Please tell me, Rabbi Berman, that cannot possibly qualify as persecution by the Conference’s criteria, can it?

    A multi-million dollar fraud was committed on your watch already. Isn’t that enough embarrassment to the Jewish community? I don’t need to remind you of the higher standard to which we, as Jews are always held, and that the Conference cannot afford its integrity to be doubted or compromised.

    Six million are owed so much more. Isn’t it time, Rabbi Berman the Claims Conference came clean on Kurzem?

    (The Testimonies Director at the Centre, Mr Phillip Maisel, who recorded Kurzem’s story formed the impression that his interviewee was not being entirely truthful: “There was something strange about his story, something didn’t add up.” Researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, concerned with preserving an accurate history of the Jewish Holocaust, has written: “Mr. Kurzem not only has and will continue to experience substantial financial gain and recognition from his books and his movie, he also lectures internationally to school children, thereby feeding the next generation with what may be distortions of the truth.”)

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