Bet Tzedek & Manatt Launch a Nationwide Pro Bono Program to Benefit Survivors
In October 2007, the German government announced that it would make a one-time payment of €2,000 (EUR) to Holocaust survivors who worked while living in German-controlled ghettos during World War II. Germany estimates that approximately 60,000 survivors may be eligible for this payment.
For decades, Bet Tzedek has assisted Holocaust survivors with reparations applications and addressed their other basic legal needs, including housing, public benefits, advanced health care directives, in-home supportive services and more. These services are vital because a significant number of survivors in the United States live at or below the federal poverty rate.
When Bet Tzedek learned about the German Ghetto Work Payment Program, the organization sprang into action. Fortunately, this was not the first time that Bet Tzedek had assisted survivors with reparations applications on a large scale. Most recently, Bet Tzedek filed more than 1,300 applications on behalf of over 350 Hungarian survivors seeking reparations for family members lost in the Holocaust and for forced labor.
In November 2007, Bet Tzedek began to run free legal clinics in Los Angeles staffed by volunteer attorneys from law firms and corporations, who see from 10 to 30 clients at each clinic. Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP was among the first law firms to provide volunteers for the clinic along with Latham & Watkins LLP, O'Melveny & Myers LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The response from the survivor community was immediate and strong with more than 25 people calling for appointments each week.
As of July 2008, Bet Tzedek has assisted over 750 Los Angeles-area survivors, filing claims worth over $2,300,000 (USD).
Once the Los Angeles clinic was up and running, Bet Tzedek began to turn its attention to other cities in the United States. Bet Tzedek has long had the honor of supporting Jewish social service agencies who provide much needed resources and guidance to survivors. Many of these agencies had begun to call Bet Tzedek asking for information about how to complete the applications.
Manatt wisely posed the question, "If we are helping survivors in Los Angeles, couldn't we also help survivors in other cities where we have offices?" They suggested that other law firms might feel the same way. Manatt managing partner Bill Quicksilver invited Stan Levy to spearhead the national effort. Presentations were made at a series of national legal conferences (Pro Bono Institute, ABA Equal Justice Works), and the effort was on its way . . .
Bet Tzedek Clinics Go National
In February 2008, Bet Tzedek held a conference call with more than 50 Jewish social service agency staff from around the country. Social workers have long been the backbone of support for Holocaust survivors in the United States with training and guidance from Bet Tzedek on a variety of reparations programs.
A prior Ghetto Work payment program from Germany, known by its German initials ZRBG, had been a huge disappointment with over 87% of applications denied. Half a decade later, with many thousands of survivors passed away and many more of advanced age, Bet Tzedek knew that there was not a moment to spare and little room for error.
To make certain the applications would be as airtight as possible, social workers welcomed pro bono attorneys as a vital new resource for their clients. With great enthusiasm, top law firms and corporate counsel offices from across the nation answered Bet Tzedek's call for help.
The race was on. But Bet Tzedek faced immense hurdles in launching the project.
- How could we train hundreds of lawyers quickly to navigate a complex legal framework?
- How could we reach survivors to let them know such free legal assistance was available?
The Justice Network quickly pulled together to meet these challenges.
- DLA Piper USA videolinked lawyers from law firms in more than 35 locations for a marathon four-hour live training and webinar, a first in the firm's history.
- Shout Factory, MGM and Halo Arts offered free production and duplication services to help Bet Tzedek create a DVD/CD-ROM Box Set with training materials for social workers and pro bono attorneys.
- Pro Bono Net's Executive Director and Co-Founder Mark O'Brien offered the construction and maintenance of this website.
- The Jewish Conference on Material Claims Against Germany helped negotiate a mailing from Germany to survivors about the new Ghetto Work Payment Program.
- The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum guided the Network's efforts to reach survivors directly in cities where clinics would be available.
- The Pro Bono Institute announced the project to its over 5,000 members after inviting Bet Tzedek to present the project at its Annual Conference in Washing ton, DC.
- The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono invited Bet Tzedek and Manatt to present the project at its 2008 Equal Justice Conference in Minneapolis, MN.
In June 2008, the Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice Network successfully launched clinics in cities outside Los Angeles. Across the country, Coordinating Firms stepped into leadership roles to organize local lawyers at Participating Firms for the effort.
With clinics under way in New York, Washington, DC, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, the Bay Area, San Diego, and Orange County, this first nationwide initiative of the Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice Network is a success!
To learn more about the Holocaust, the Ghettos and the German Ghetto Work Payment Program, go to Links.