Survivors claims must be honored before its too late

More than 65 years after the killing stopped, Germany continues to pay reparations to victims of the Holocaust.

It was announced this week that the German government and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (aka the Claims Conference) have negotiated first-ever payments to 80,000 additional victims, most of them in the former Soviet Union.

For the most part, these elderly survivors are Jews who fled eastward in the early years of the war, trying to escape from the dreaded Einsatzgruppen or Nazi death squads.

Moreover, the Claims Conference has reduced the time period of eligibility from 12 months to six months that Holocaust victims had to have hidden or suffered during Nazi occupation.

That these victims were overlooked all these years is one more stain on Germany and the world community. Yet we applaud the move, as we applaud all German restitution efforts over the years.

Not all the news in Holocaust reparations this week has been so harmonious. A battle is heating up within the Jewish community over two bills pending before Congress that would allow individual survivors or their heirs to sue Holocaust-era insurance companies in federal court for failure to pay out benefits after the war.

Until now, the common practice in restitution efforts has been to pursue collective claims. Some, including many survivors, support the new bills, believing they will provide quicker, more efficient resolution to outstanding financial claims against European insurers. Others, including the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress, worry the bills, if enacted, would be a windfall for lawyers (not survivors) and would undercut ongoing negotiations.

The bills — one of which has been dubbed the Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors Act (named for the late San Mateo representative, himself a survivor) — enjoy broad support in Congress.

Whatever their outcome, one thing is clear: With every passing day, time claims more elderly Holocaust survivors. The day soon will come when the last one passes into memory.

The time for justice is now. Though no amount of money can ever make up for the tremendous losses these people have endured, their claims must be honored.