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German Parliament extends Holocaust pensions

Germany's Parliament on Thursday approved a measure extending pension payments totaling nearly a half-billion dollars for thousands of elderly Jews who were forced to work for the Nazis in ghettos.  

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which helped negotiate the deal with the German government, said the agreement means some 40,000 Holocaust survivors, used by the Nazis in ghettos as laborers in exchange for food or meager wages, will receive additional benefits.

Most Holocaust survivors suffered serious malnutrition during World War II and also lost almost all of their relatives, leaving them today with many medical problems and little or no family support network to help them cope.

Under the new measure, all people qualifying for the pensions can have them backdated to 1997. The government said the extra payments would amount to some 340 million euros ($461 million) -- or about 8,500 euros on average for each survivor.

The move "brings a long-delayed measure of justice to elderly survivors of ghettos," said Conference official Greg Schneider in a statement. "These `ghetto pensions' are of great interest to survivors who may be in great need of the funds and for whom they can bring additional comfort and support in their final years."

The average age of the survivors affected is around 85. Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, who introduced the proposal, has promised payments would be made "swiftly and efficiently."

Already, it has taken years to get to this point.

In 2002, a law set the stage for the pensions to be paid, retroactive to 1997. But thousands of claims were rejected because of restrictions on who could qualify. And in 2009, a court ruling made it easier to file successful claims, but applicants could only have payments backdated by four years, in accordance with German pension law.

In total, Germany has paid around 70 billion euros ($95 billion) in compensation for Nazi crimes -- primarily to Jewish survivors.

Compensation has been ever-evolving since Germany agreed in 1952 to make payments, with annual negotiations between the Claims Conference and the German government on who should receive funds and how much will be paid.