Posted by Irina Rutman
Ten years ago, a victim of Nazi persecution from the former Soviet Union applied for reparations from Germany through the Hardship Fund. Her application was denied, she was told, because she was born on the wrong bank of the Volga River, which was not occupied by the Nazis.
When I started working in Schechter Holocaust Services in 2010, I visited the client and helped her fill out a new application for the Hardship Fund, this time on the basis of having been a fetus as her parents fled Nazi-occupied territory. This application was denied, too, on the basis of her date of birth.
In December 2012 the eligibility guidelines were expanded and people who fled 100 kilometers from the farthest Nazi army advance became eligible for the Hardship Fund.
I called the Claims Conference and asked whether my client could appeal or apply again. I was told that she had to provide her story after she was born and explain where her parents were from May 1942 until the end of the war.
I found among my client’s papers the document that her father worked in a town farther east but within 100 kilometers from the place where my client was born. Using the Internet I learned that the village where my client was born was divided by the Volga River and it was not clear on which bank of the river my client was born. I submitted a Google map of the area and the front line and translated my client’s story.
I requested copies of her parents’ Hardship Fund applications from Israel to confirm that they fled occupied territories. When I received them I sent all the materials to the Claims Conference in March 2012. My client finally received money from the Hardship Fund in October 2012, ten years after the first application was sent.
It’s not possible to overestimate the amount of time and energy I spent thinking about how I could start this process again for my client, searching for the most logical arguments that could make a difference, and convincing myself not to stop and to persist in an endeavor that often seemed futile.
Over time, applying for the Hardship Fund takes on a life of its own. The one-time payment is not huge. But receiving money from the fund is validation of one’s experience and provides the sense that some measure of justice has been meted out.
Irina Rutman has been working at JF&CS since 2005. She works with Russian speaking elderly in New American Services and in Schechter Holocaust Services and it the Program Coordinator for the Boston Haifa Connection for Russian speaking teenagers. She is devoted to providing help and comfort to elderly immigrants.