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Holocaust Survivors Pro Bono

ZRBG Ghetto Pension Update/Next Steps for HSJN

Monday, October 26, 2009

  • Organization: Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to update you on the impact of recent German federal supreme social court decisions on the rules relating to German social security pensions for work in a ghetto (also known as “ghetto pensions” or “ZRBG” pensions), as well as plans for the Holocaust Survivor Justice Network (“HSJN”) to assist survivors with this issue.

 

Impact of recent court decisions on previously denied ZRBG-based pension cases:

As you might have heard, in June 2009, a federal court in Germany ruled in favor of several Holocaust survivors who had sued the German social security agency, the Deutsche Rentenversicherung ( “DRV”), after their pension applications were denied. These decisions have recently been published.

After investigating these rulings and extensive discussions with DRV, we have determined that each survivor who previously applied for and was denied a pension under the ZRBG law, either in whole or in part, will be entitled to file a “Motion for Reconsideration.” In addition, survivors who have yet to file an application under ZRBG may file a new one. Widows or widowers of survivors who met the ZRBG requirements may be entitled, under certain conditions, to receive a pension. The surviving spouse need not be a persecuted person. Pursuant to the recent court decisions, these motions and new applications will be decided under greatly liberalized criteria. This should dramatically increase the number of approvals for pensions under the ZRBG law.

 

The three basic prerequisites for the ZRBG-based pensions are that the survivor:

1. was persecuted,

2. was forced to live in a ghetto in a territory that was occupied by the Germans or incorporated into it, and

3. performed voluntary work for which he or she received remuneration.

Although each of these requirements must still be met, the court rulings have made it far less difficult for survivors to fulfill them. In particular, the remuneration requirement has been liberalized which should allow for a much greater approval rate. We will provide further details as to the definitions of each element at a later time.

 

Effect of court decisions on payments under the GGWP

If the client has already applied for or received the 2,000 EURO payment under the German Ghetto Work Program (GGWP), he or she may still file a new ZRBG-based application or a Motion for Reconsideration. However, as with the previous interpretation of ZRBG rules, survivors may not receive payments under both GGWP and ZRBG for the same period of time spent in a ghetto. Thus, the client must repay the 2,000 EURO if his or her ZRBG-based application or motion is approved. At this time, we are awaiting further instructions from DRV whether an off-set against pension payments will be made available. Although the amount of the pension can not be determined in advance, survivors should not refrain from filing a ZRBG-based application or motion if they have already applied for or received payment under GGWP. If a pension under the ZRBG is approved, a survivor might decline it if it is worth less than the 2000.- EURO payment.

 

Procedures for re-opening previously filed claims and filing new claims

We are corresponding with Germany about procedures that are to be implemented for handling these cases. To date, we have received the following information from the DRV:

• If a ZRBG application was previously filed and rejected according to the prior interpretation of the law: it is recommended to file a motion to re-open the case, or a “Motion for Reconsideration.” The DRV will then re-examine the rejection decisions based on the new interpretation of the law. The DRV has not determined the order in which these cases will be processed, but we believe Motions for Reconsideration should be reviewed sooner than previously denied claims for which a motion has not been filed. While previously denied ZRBG cases will be re-opened automatically, DRV informed us that the filing of Motions for Reconsideration will enable them to update their databases, facilitate the internal processing and greatly speed up the decision process.

• If a ZRBG case or application is currently pending: these will be decided under the new ZRBG standards. New applications need not be filed for these clients.

• If no ZRBG application has yet been filed on behalf of a survivor: a new pension application will need to be filed for these clients.

We are currently preparing sample Motions for Reconsideration as well as a form that survivors may use to request reconsideration of their cases. We expect to have these documents completed in two weeks. As a second step, we are planing on preparing sample forms and instructions on the next steps which might need to be taken in a case that was re-opened by DRV.

 

NEXT STEPS FOR THE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS JUSTICE NETWORK

Bet Tzedek will provide detailed instructions and training for Coordinating and Participating Firms on how to properly prepare and file the Motions to Reconsider. This will include a telephonic and/or video training addressing legal and factual issues related to these motions, along with written instructions and forms. We plan to hold this training in November, which should enable Coordinating Firms to organize legal clinics before the end of the year. Bet Tzedek also will post training materials to the HSJN website and provide weekly phone-in support, as with the GGWP program.

We also are now assembling a team of pro bono attorneys to provide guidance and assistance in cases where clients require more than the simple filing of a motion to re-open. In the United States, we are seeking attorneys with HSJN experience who will become experts in ZRBG pension cases, and thereafter provide training and advice to the volunteer attorneys in that region, particularly for cases in which full applications must be filed and those in which motions are denied – these cases will require greater familiarity with German law and ZRBG procedures than the motions to re-open (or the GGWP applications). We also are assembling teams of German attorneys to assist with legal research, communications with DRV, preparation of legal documents in German, and assessment of cases for potential appeals. In appropriate cases, co-counseling arrangements may be employed. We hope to have these teams in place by the end of the year, and will update the Network on our progress as well as recommended procedures for clients who are not candidates for motions to re-open and clients whose motions ultimately are denied or require additional steps.

We anticipate that Coordinating Firms in the U.S. will work closely with Jewish social services agencies, much as they have done in GGWP matters. Indeed, we hope that Network firms will begin to discuss outreach strategies with their local social service agencies now, so that the Network can begin to assist survivors with these efforts as soon as possible. We also anticipate that this initiative may be even larger than the HSJN’s GGWP project, which reached more than 5,000 survivors. Germany denied approximately 70,000 applications for ZRBG pensions over the last decade or so, and we expect many survivors to seek and need legal assistance with these important issues.

 

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

• We hope that all current Coordinating and Participating Firms will be part of this exciting project by helping Holocaust survivors file Motions for Reconsideration or new ZRBG applications. We also invite new firms and companies to get involved.

• Please let us know if any attorneys within your firm have prior HSJN experience and want to join our “corps of experts”.

• If your firm has offices in Germany, or has a relationship with a German law firm, we urge you to consider asking your German colleagues to participate in this effort. It is not essential that these attorneys are experts in German social security law.

 

For further information or to offer your help, please contact Zach Lebovits, Bet Tzedek’s Pro Bono & Volunteer Coordinator at (323) 549- 5895 or by e-mail at zlebovits@bettzedek.org.

 

Very truly yours,

Mitch Kamin, President/CEO

Michelle Williams Court, VP & General Counsel

Volker Schmidt, Holocaust Services Attorney

Lisa Hoffman, Holocaust Services Attorney

BET TZEDEK LEGAL SERVICES

 

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