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Children of Holocaust Survivors Sue Germany for Psychiatric Care

A group representing thousands of children of Holocaust survivors filed a class-action lawsuit against the German government Monday, demanding that Germany pay for their psychiatric care.

The Israelis, calling themselves second-generation Holocaust survivors, say the scars of the Nazi genocide on their parents have crossed generations. Many still live with an irrational fear of starvation and incapacitating bouts of depression, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit marks "the very first time that the German government will be asked to take responsibility and to care for those of the second generation in Israel and indeed, worldwide," attorney Gideon Fisher said before filing the suit at the Tel Aviv District Court.

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry declined comment, but the country was likely to see the suit as a window for an indefinite number of future claims.

The suit seeks to set up a German-financed fund to pay for biweekly therapy sessions for 15,000 to 20,000 people, or about $10 million annually for three years.

"If they will not do it voluntarily, and unfortunately they have not done it so far, then I really hope the president of the court here in Tel Aviv would make them take responsibility," said Fisher, a child of Auschwitz survivors who founded the Fisher Fund, the nonprofit group behind the lawsuit.

Baruch Mazor, the fund's director, said 4 to 5 percent of the 400,000 children of survivors in Israel require treatment. Since many cannot hold steady jobs, they cannot pay for their own treatment, and aid from the Israeli government and health insurance have been inadequate, he said.

About 4,000 people have joined the suit, he said.

"The only thing we are asking for is some kind of financial help in order to give them psychiatric treatment. There will be no money passed from hand to hand," Mazor said Monday.

It was unclear what standing the Israeli court would have in a damages case against a foreign country.

Mazor said the Tel Aviv suit was a first step aimed at winning recognition that Germany bears responsibility for the suffering of survivors' children. The plaintiffs will then try to negotiate a settlement, or will take their case to a German or an international court, he said.

Since the 1950s, Germany has paid more than $60 billion in reparations to concentration camp survivors, families of the some of the 6 million Jewish victims, and to the state of Israel. Much of that money went to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a New York-based organization that negotiates with Germany and distributes the payments.

Mazor said money handled by the Claims Conference is earmarked for survivors, and their children did not want to detract from those funds.

The suit says the second generation grew up "in the shadow of depression, grief and guilt of their parents, which created a powerful inclination among the children for pain and suffering."

Children had a "twisted relationship with their parents" that impeded their development and led to severe psychological problems, the suit claims.

One 58-year-old woman told her story to Israel Radio Sunday, saying she inherited the fear of starvation experienced by her parents in Auschwitz, where inmates prized any crust of bread they could obtain.

"If you come to my house and open the freezer, loaves of bread fall on you, without any proportion to what I really need," the woman said.

She declined to disclose her name, but Mazor said she spoke for thousands.

She said she felt as if she had no childhood, and jumped directly into adolescence. The feeling conveyed by her father was: "I went through hell, and what you are going through is nothing," she said.

Others of the second generation say they cannot ride buses because it reminds them of the transports their parents took to the concentration camps, or they fear dogs because they were used by the Nazis to control crowds.

Mazor said the Fisher Fund held lengthy negotiations with the German Embassy over the compensation claims, but the talks were cut off by the Germans.