After more than sixty years, Holocaust survivors who worked in German-controlled Ghettos during World War II may be eligible for a reparation payment by the German government. An estimated 20,000 eligible survivors live in the U. S.
WNPR's Diane Orson visited a free clinic in Connecticut where survivors meet with volunteer lawyers to fill out the applications, and tell their stories..
"Good morning Mr. Davis.
"Weâ€™re gonna just get some information."
80-year old Albert Davis walks into a small room at the Jewish Family Services office in West Hartford. Heâ€™s one of 22 Holocaust survivors whoâ€™ve come to apply for the German Ghetto Work Payment Program. The fund was established last September as a goodwill gesture to help aging survivors. Mr. Davis is a burly fellow. Born Abraham Davidovitz of Sighet, Romania, the son of a butcher. He was 13 years old when his family was sent to the Sighet ghetto.
"We dig ditches. They rounded us up. They took us out about five, six miles in order for to dig ditches there. After a year, a year and a half, they took us and they put us in a big synagogue before they send us over to Auschwitz."
Where his family was killed. Albert Davis says in Auschwitz, Nazi officers ordered him to show his hands, which are big. He says those hands dug trenches in the camps, repaired machines, did plumbing, and saved his life. After the war Mr. Davis made his way to Hartford, where he worked for 35 years as a meat cutter in the local Jewish deli.
"They took all my youth, all my youth when I was young. They took it away from me. Some people have here there, what you call it? Teenagers. I never had youth, teenager. I never had adult. I never grew up."
The new payment program is not for slave labor in concentration camps, but for work performed in the Jewish Ghettos of Nazi-controlled Europe. There were hundreds of ghettos, many closed-off by barbed-wire fences and walls. Jews would sweep the streets, haul lumber, sew uniforms. In exchange for the bare necessities of clothing or food. Once Hitlerâ€™s â€œFinal Solutionâ€ began, the ghettos were destroyed and occupants deported to forced-labor and extermination camps.
It took many survivors years to talk about their experiences. And even now, filling out the reparation forms is difficult for 86-year old Sonia Mazny. She inspected German military uniforms in the Bialystock Ghetto in Poland.
"We tried to block everything. To do the papers and things like that, everything comes back to us. Very emotional."
Survivors must describe their persecution history, and include specific places and dates. Attorney Eric Goldstein says they also have to verify that their ghetto work was â€œvoluntaryâ€.
"That is a troublesome aspect to the application. But as long as the work wasnâ€™t done under an imminent threat of physical violenceâ€¦at the point of a gun or the tip of a bayonet, the German government will consider that to be..quote, unquote, voluntary."
Only living survivors may apply for the one-time 2,000 Euro payment, about $3,000. Albert Davis says for him, the money means less than the that fact what happened to him is being recognized.
"They can never make up for the things we lost. Never. All the money can not help. I could be bitter about it, but Iâ€™m not. You see like somebody saysâ€¦could be half empty or half full."
Free legal clinics for the German Ghetto Work Payment Program are being held in cities across the country.
For more information please visit the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.