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Help for Thousands of New York Survivors (7/31/2008)

L.I. Holocaust survivor signs up for German reparations for toil in ghetto

JUL 31, 2008 | 10:17 PM
Irene Greenwald was only 14 when she spent a harrowing month at Munkacs ghetto in Hungary during the Holocaust caring for children, before she was shipped to Auschwitz.

"Mothers came with five or six children; you help out with the kids," she recalled. "I was a kid myself."

Now, 64 years later, Greenwald, 78, has applied for compensation for the work she did all those years ago.

The $3,100 she stands to receive from the German Ghetto Fund will do nothing to heal her scars, she said.

"Can they pay me for my youth? Can they pay me for my life?" asked the Roslyn, L.I., resident. "No money could pay for that." Greenwald was one of 86 New Yorkers who once labored in Nazi-controlled ghettos who have filed for restitution in the past three weeks. "A quarter of Holocaust survivors live below the poverty level," said Jerri Schick, a lawyer at O'Melveny & Myers, who works pro bono helping implement the program. "It's a very meaningful payment for them."

The payments stem from the German government's decision in September to endow a lump sum of 2,000 euros to survivors who are eligible, in effect, for German Social Security benefits.

"This is just a small piece of moral justice for what took place," said Elihu Kover, vice president for Nazi victim services at Selfhelp Community Services.

Clara Mendlovic, 82, of Brooklyn, also applied for the payment. She said the money will "help to pay my rent, to eat. It will help."

There are about 10,000 survivors in New York, and approximately 60,000 to 70,000 worldwide eligible for the compensation.

An effort is underway to educate them about the fund and help them fill out the paperwork. Clinics are being held at synagogues, YMCAs and other locations.

"We have a lot of people who never applied for reparations, never wanted Germany's money, and they're at a point in their lives where they're ready to tell their stories," said Wendy Levine, director of Holocaust Reparations Project in Los Angeles.

Survivors who think they may be eligible should call (866) 261-8003.

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