Hungary, Claims Conference exchange harsh words over Holocaust money

(JTA) — The Claims Conference has accused Hungary’s government of “depriving” Holocaust survivors through “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

The allegations came after Budapest demanded on Monday that the Claims Conference – an organization representing world Jewry in compensation talks on Holocaust-era crimes – “return” $12.6 million to Hungary’s treasury.

An announcement published on the website of the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice cited “discriminatory” methods by the Claims Conference, which had “failed to properly report” on expenditure. Hungary would give the Claims Conference no more funds until the issue is solved, the announcement said.

Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider told JTA this was the first time in the organization’s 62 years of operation “that a country has reneged when it came time to pay. We hope that intervention at the highest level in Hungary will resolve this issue for Hungarian survivors who need help.”

According to the Hungarian ministry, the money Hungary is demanding is part of $21 million which the government pledged in 2007 for the following five years for Hungarian Holocaust survivors in Hungary and abroad. A new settlement was to be signed this year.

The money was initially transferred from the treasury to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok – a committee of government officials and Jewish representatives. Mazsok transferred $12.6 million to the Claims Conference for distribution outside Hungary, the ministry said.

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But the Claims Conference told JTA the Hungarian government had failed to transfer $5.6 million of the $21 million pledged. In an email to JTA, the Claims Conference said it only spent approximately $8 million received from Hungary.

“As a result of such conduct, thousands of Holocaust survivors will, unfortunately, be deprived of the assistance they so desperately need and had reason to expect,” the Claims Conference added. It called Hungary’s allegations “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

In its statement, the Hungarian ministry said distribution of funds by the Claims Conference “was made on a far-from-equal footing, which represents discrimination to the detriment of Holocaust survivors living in Hungary.” Based on the report submitted by the Claims Conference to date, “it is impossible to identify the individuals eligible for compensation,” the ministry wrote on its website.

The Claims Conference, according to the email it sent JTA, gave Budapest a 400-page report containing the names of all recipients and how much they received. “Every penny was transferred to a Hungarian survivor, not even one cent was spent on administration or any other expense,” the Claims Conference said.

The email also said that funding for Holocaust survivors stopped after the 2010, when the Fidesz party came to power. “We call upon Prime Minister Orban to intercede in order to help needy Hungarian survivors who happen to live outside of Hungary today and comply with international agreements.”

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