Summary ... The Board of Directors of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany repeatedly sought to side-step the issue of the embezzlement of $57 million from the Holocaust survivor's benefit fund. This has resulted in the appalling suffering of Holocaust survivors, denying them the basic essentials of food, medicine, and other services to allow them to live out their remaining years with dignity.
Less than six months after the Board of Directors of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) brushed off allegations of managerial negligence and insufficient oversight, and re-elected all officers to another term of office, instead of seeking to mitigate their previous failures by belatedly reforming the organization, Chairman of the Board, Julius Berman and his acolytes have launched a media campaign to exonerate themselves.
In an article published in The Jerusalem Post on October 10, Berman claims that individuals have distorted the truth about the Claims Conference in order to stymie its noble cause of distributing money to elderly Holocaust survivors. The facts, however, point to the opposite conclusion: that we critics have been so vocal, because we are appalled by the Claims Conference's gross management failures, for which its Board refuses to take responsibility, and which have caused Holocaust survivors to suffer unnecessarily.
Berman is demonizing his critics in order to remove the spotlight from the real issue at hand: embezzlement of $57 million, the largest financial transgression ever experienced by a Jewish organization. He accuses critics of feeding "a web of lies and distortions" to the media, and "leveling baseless attacks" against the Claims Conference. But what we have done is reported the facts in order to expose the lack of accountability and oversight which enabled this massive fraud, and the need for new leadership of this extraordinarily important organization.
Berman boasts that the Claims Conference uncovered the embezzlement when, in fact, the organization systematically and deliberately concealed evidence of the breakdown of management and leadership which facilitated the fraud. After discovery of the fraud, Berman and CEO Greg Schneider concealed not only from the public, but also from their own Board that they personally had been forewarned of the fraud in 2001 and that Berman himself had undertaken to investigate the allegations.
Berman further cites the fact that the German government has increased its annual contribution to the Claims Conference as evidence of its confidence in the organization. This financial increase does not necessarily demonstrate organizational trust, as it is in the interest of the German government to continue providing funds in its genuine effort to convey remorse for the crimes of its antecedents.
Berman has even minimized the extent of this massive fraud by noting that being German taxpayers' money the $57 million embezzled did not impact on survivor recipients' restitution. Such an unconscionable remark expressed to justify denying any responsibility for the safekeeping of these funds entrusted to the Claims Conference provides sufficient grounds for deeming Berman unfit to hold a leadership role in the organization. But, it is also misleading. The German government does not have unlimited funds available for restitution. And German taxpayers' funds earmarked for restitution, which were stolen, would surely impact on other funds which may have been made available.
Based on the findings of the Claims Conference's own ombudsman, I stand by my view that the Claims Conference's mismanagement represents an abuse of power for which the organization's leaders should be required to publicly apologize and resign. I challenge Rabbi Berman to dispute the following facts:
As part of his current PR effort Berman quotes Albert Einstein, who said, "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters." Berman has been entrusted with important matters indeed, and he has [been] proven unworthy of the job.
And whilst this goes on, every day we hear heartbreaking stories depicting the appalling suffering of Holocaust survivors in the twilight of their lives, denied elementary needs such as food, medicine, and other basic services to enable them to live out their remaining years with dignity. They deserve better. We all deserve better. The mishandling of sacred Holocaust restitution funds represents the greatest moral failure of organized Jewish life in our generation.
[ Isi Leibler | Published: October 24, 2013 ]
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