Lipstadt on the Claims Conference

Deborah Lipstadt, one of the world’s foremost Holocaust historians, responded yesterday to the recent scandal at the Claims Conference, in which tens of millions of dollars were stolen while the organization — despite an early warning of the fraud — failed to properly follow up.

Bottom line: Heads should roll, but they probably won’t.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany [aka The Claims Conference] has been embroiled in a terrible scandal for the past months. Fifty seven million dollars of funds were embezzled by employees. It now turns out that The Claims Conference was explicitly warned about this in 2001 and clearly took far less than aggressive action – apparently a paralegal was asked to look into it — to get to the bottom of the matter.

Once the authorities stepped in and arrested the employees involved, then The Claims Conference conducted a self-audit, recovered a miniscule bit of the money, and declared victory.

Paul Berger has covered this extensively in the Forward (see below). There has also been extensive coverage in the JTA and the Jerusalem Post

I am a great fan of this organization. It has done excellent work. I have benefitted from its support of educational projects. My website on Holocaust denial [ ] was given a grant to fund the translation of portions of the site into Arabic, Farsi, Russian, and Turkish. I remain tremendously grateful to The Claims Conference for this and other important educational and humanitarian work it has done.

But I am devastated at this turn of events. A number of Jewish leaders have spoken out calling for answers. Others have demanded a house cleaning and for someone to step up and say: “The buck stops here.” Isi Leibler, a perennial Jewish organizational gadfly, has done so in a forthright manner. Menachem Rosensaft called for the creation of a Conference ombudsman. Others, among them Ronald Lauder and Natan Sharansky, have demanded answers and independent investigations.

The head of the Conference attacked those calling for independent investigations as well as the journalists who had been tracking this story. It’s classic blame the messenger.

Meanwhile there are survivors for whom these funds were allocated living in difficult circumstances as they are in their twilight years. It’s heartbreaking.

My prediction: Nothing will happen. No one will lose their position. No one will resign. No one will admit that they screwed up… big time.

To paraphrase a famous line uttered at a Senate hearing many decades ago, have they lost all sense of decency, if not just shame?

Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.