July 13, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
July 13, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Claims Conference Internal Committee Implodes

New York—Coming soon after the trials and convictions of fraudsters who fleeced the German government with a $57 million scheme at the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany (The Claims Conference or CC), the 2013 summer board meeting was expected to be a hot bed of controversy once there was an analysis of an internal report (See Summary, page 45) issued by an internal investigative committee.

The internal investigation was triggered in response to a public outcry caused by an anonymous letter written in 2001 that came to light during the trial, one that, though “written” by a fictitious Jewish organization, did specifically listed verifiable incidents of fraud committed under the auspices of the Hardship Fund and its director, the key figure in the fraud, Semen Domnitser. In each incident listed in the letter, serious irregularities were found, but when investigated by others in the CC, Domnitser stood his ground, though some felt his answers left much to be desired. The rest of his scheme did not come to light until office procedures were updated and computer systems were added.

Roman R. Kent,  Auschwitz survivors, CC treasurer, board member and chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants was one of two members who resigned from the four-member investigatory committee after the report was circulated to board members. He said that those who were accused of ineptitude, bad management and other faults, did not have time to respond to the accusations the report leveled at them, and that that has endangered the entire negotiation process with the German, at the end of which survivors will not get needed funding for homecare and other needs.

Kent has been the lead negotiator for restitution from the German government since the passing of Norbert Wollheim, decades ago.  He told JLBC that he was one of the few had access to the FBI investigation throughout its nine-month duration. At press time on Tuesday, other than his resignation from the investigative committee—along with that of Abraham Biderman who represents Agudath Israel—Kent responded that “it would be wrong for me to discuss the issues when the meeting of the Board of Directors is Tuesday and Wednesday…because I am involved.”

Kent told JLBC that he was satisfied by the outcome of the trial, noting that the FBI had worked hard to uncover what turned out to be a very sophisticated scheme. They managed to ferret out 31 crooked employees, and he said, “All 31 were found guilty.”

Kent said people still have to be sentenced, and those who already received judgments will have to serve time, pay restitution and fines, or both. Asked if he felt the sentences were just, he said,  “Some of them yes, some of them, no.  Many of people, when in front of the judge, say they are elderly or sick or this or that.  The judge has rachmonis (pity). Still, each one received more than a year.  They did a lot of damage.  A year and half or two does not correct the damage, but basically, I am satisfied.  If it took the FBI so many months to catch them, you understand that it was very hard (to uncover the fraud.).  The CC,  he stated, “gave them a lot of help to get to the truth.”

He expressed his relief at the conclusion of the investigation and trial.  “Getting rid of the case was  the lifting of a great burden.”

We asked Kent, if he thought all responsible were caught. “I think so.   They (the FBI) think so.  I think that they caught everybody. If they did not catch everybody, I am sure no one will attempt anything. The Claims Conference has to be very vigilant, very careful and check all the papers carefully.  Sometimes it is a no-win situation: you want to go through the papers as fast as possible so the survivors can get the money as fast as possible, otherwise many will not live to see the results.”

Kent told JLBC that only three among the Claims Conference leaders “knew what was going on.  We were under orders from the FBI not to discuss (the investigation).  That’s what I did; I did not discuss it with anybody.  Later, many people were angry, but the FBI was working on all the issues of the fraud.

“We had to explain everything to the Germans.  They were very understanding, and followed the trial with us. It was their money.  We had to tell the high officials what was going on; a report was given to the key people in Germany.”

When the anonymous letter surfaced at the trial, there was a huge hue and cry. The Forward and other newspapers demanded answers, as did The Jerusalem Post. Board members were also angry, and the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress demanded a public inquiry.

Prior to last week’s meetings and before the report was sent out to Board members, Stephan Kramer, Secretary of the Germany Jewish community strongly suggested that discussion of the fraud be a prime, rather than the final item on the Board’s agenda.  Kramer, via email, told Ari Bucheister, the Claims Conference’s chief of staff, “we must not create the impression that we are sweeping things under the carpet….This would be a critical error with severe repercussions.”

In a bombshell announcement, Kent announced his decision to become uninvolved.  He and Biderman resigned from the internal investigative committee less than 24 hours before the meetings started, because they felt that protocols for people to respond to charges made against them were not followed, and that ultimately, this would do harm to survivors.

JLBC got hold of Kent as he was headed to the meetings on Monday. In a previous conversation with the newspaper, he was cautious, and said he was fully aware of the fact that most reporters like to pick up something very dirty and forget about all the good that is done. “Many newspapers like to make a scandal.”

Kent told JLBC, “I am deeply saddened by all of this,” he said “at the end of the lives of the survivors, we have to see a fight over the survivors fate in the newspapers? We never desired this.  The problem is that the victims of the publicity are the survivors.  They are now the victims once again. Our deeds are being distorted.  Our future is being destroyed.  The future of the association which was supposed to give help to survivors is being distorted.  It will not be what it was. People who  supposedly wanted to help survivors have created a situation in which the survivors will once again be the victims and deprived of funding they desperately need in order to spend their last days in some dignity.”

By Maxine Dovere

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles