Justice Network in Phoenix - Jewish News (7/25/2008)
- Jewish News of Greater Phoenix
July 25, 2008/Tammuz 22 5768, Volume 60, No. 50
Legal assistance for survivors
JFCS, lawyers help with reparations application
Jewish Family & Children's Service and local attorneys are helping Holocaust survivors apply for a new reparations program available through the German government.
The new Ghetto Fund, established in September 2007, pays symbolic compensation for "voluntary" work in German-controlled ghettos from 1939 to 1944. To be eligible for the one-time payment of 2,000 euros (about $3,000), survivors who worked in German-controlled ghettos must have worked without a threat of force.
Bet Tzedek, a legal services organization in Los Angeles, launched a national pro bono effort in November to assist survivors with the application process. Stan Levy, a senior attorney at Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles, spearheaded the national effort.
"Our goal - we set a very high standard - (is to reach) 10,000 survivors," Levy said. "Estimates are that there are about 20,000 survivors in the U.S. who are eligible for this program. Our goal is to try to reach half of them."
Hundreds of law firms and corporations in about 30 cities in 22 states are participating, he said.
Arizona survivors may contact JFCS, which is serving as a help center and working with 29 local attorneys. Jewish Family & Children's Service of Southern Arizona in Tucson is also participating.
Craig Morgan, an associate at Perkins Coie Brown & Bain in Phoenix, is a coordinator of the program in Arizona. He recently traveled to Los Angeles to attend a training session at Bet Tzedek, which included an overview of the Holocaust and the legal issues involved with the reparations program. Morgan was scheduled to lead an optional training session in his office this week for the participating local attorneys.
Bet Tzedek has provided 400 copies of a training DVD that "takes you from beginning to end (on) how to properly answer the questions in a manner that Germany is likely to accept the application," Levy said.
During his visit to Los Angeles, Morgan conducted his first interview for the program; it was the first time he heard a survivor's story firsthand. "There's nothing like sitting right in front of someone and seeing them tell you the most horrific chapter of their life story," Morgan said.
During the three-hour interview, "We went through her entire persecution history, from the day that the Nazis took her from her mom and dad until the day she was liberated and reunited with her father at the very place where they took her, in front of her home," Morgan said.
He called the experience one of the most rewarding he's had as an attorney and said he was amazed by the survivor's strength in recounting her story, and by the depth of her gratitude for his help.
To the survivors, "it's like putting their life on the line for everyone to see and to hear, having to relive the most traumatic moments of their existence. ... I didn't expect for her to be so strong about it."
Ronald Lowe, a partner at Perkins Coie Brown & Bain, conducted the first Arizona interview last week and called it a "very moving experience." Once he heard about the program from his firm's pro bono coordinator in Seattle, he sent out e-mails asking local attorneys to volunteer.
"It has not been difficult at all to get volunteers," he said.
Kathy Rood, JFCS manager of Jewish social services, is handling the initial screening calls and arranging interviews between the attorneys and survivors here in Phoenix. "I think it's so cool that so many people are volunteering their time for this," she said.
Rood or another social worker will sit in on each two- to three-hour interview, in case the survivors need emotional support while recounting their stories.
Rood is contacting Arizona survivors through the mailing lists of the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to let them know about the reparations program.
According to Judy Searle, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association, there are 105 survivors on the organization's mailing list (total membership, which includes children of survivors and other family members and interested parties, numbers 237). Because not all survivors are association members, she said it's difficult to determine the total number of survivors who live in the state.
Bet Tzedek has provided free legal services to the poor and needy in the Los Angeles area since 1974 and relies heavily on volunteering attorneys, said Levy, who is one of its founders. From the beginning, the organization has helped survivors fill out applications for various benefits.
According to the Claims Conference Web site, claimscon.org, as of June 30, 21,800 people had applied for the Ghetto Fund payments and 4,500 had been approved.
German-controlled ghettos existed until 1944, so the youngest of the eligible survivors are most likely in their early to mid-70s, Levy said. To date, the youngest survivor approved for reparations was approximately 8 years old while in the ghetto.
Searle said she appreciates the collaborative effort of the community to assist the survivors. After initially receiving the paperwork for the reparations program, and expressing frustration about applications being denied in the past for other programs, some survivors "told me they were overwhelmed with it and threw it out." After they learned that assistance was available, many were willing to give it another try.
Call Kathy Rood, Jewish Family & Children's Service, 602-452-4627.
List of volunteers
The following law firms are participating in the program:
Burch & Cracchiolo (one attorney): DLA Piper (two); Fennemore Craig (two); Kutak Rock (seven); Osborn Maledon (six, including Jewish News contributor Tim Eckstein); and Perkins Coie Brown & Bain P.A. (10). David Kader, of the Arizona State University College of Law and former president of the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association, is also volunteering.
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