June 28, 2009
Following a decision of the German Federal Social Court (Bundessozialgericht) in early June, tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors previously rejected for German Social Security payments under the country’s “Ghetto Pension Law” (ZRBG) will have an opportunity for a reconsideration of their rejected claims pursuant to newly liberalized guidelines.
The so-called Ghetto Pension Law (ZRBG), enacted in 2002 and based on court decisions from 1997 regarding work in the Lodz Ghetto, grants pensions for voluntary and remunerated work in ghettos located in territories occupied or annexed by the Nazis. In continuing discussions with the German government, the Claims Conference has strongly maintained that the eligibility criteria have been interpreted inconsistently and too stringently by local German Social Security authorities and courts. Out of 70,000 applicants, more than 60,000 have been rejected.
In June, 2009, the German Federal Social Court ruled on a number of issues of interpretation of the ghetto pension law, including the definition of “remuneration.” The Court decided that the interpretation of “remuneration” should be broader, encompassing food or any other benefits that workers received for their labor. The court also ruled that such remuneration could also have been paid to the ghetto Judenrat instead of directly to the worker.
The court also expanded the definition of “voluntary” labor, ruling that it could mean that a ghetto worker had the possibility to accept or decline work or have input regarding his or her working conditions. The Court ruling also confirmed that the law did not carry any age limit. The only criterion is the work of the applicant, irrelevant of age.
The German Social Security Administration has announced that its offices are conducting a proactive review of all rejected ZRBG/Ghetto Pension claims. ZRBG officials have stated their intention of implementing the new court decisions in a rapid and unbureaucratic manner.
Those with denied Ghetto Pension claims do not need to request the re-opening of their claims in accordance with the court rulings of June 2009 nor do they have to contact the ZRBG offices in Germany to have their files reviewed.
The full text of the ZRBG announcement (in German only) is available here.
Applicants who choose to contact a ZRBG office in connection with the re-opening of a Ghetto Pension claim should note that their request comes“ under consideration of the decisions of the 13th Senat of the BSG dated June 2nd 2009 and of the 5th Senat of the BSG dated June 3rd 2009.”Applicants should contact the Social Security authority that issued the claim denial. Click here for a contact list of German Social Security authorities (https://www.claimscon.org/index.asp?url=zrbg_main)
All widows/widower of rejected applicants who have since passed away can apply for re-examination.
It is not yet clarified how many years the retroactive payments will cover. The Claims Conference is pressing for payments starting from 1997, but this is not yet decided.
The Claims Conference will continue to make available information on this new development to Holocaust survivors through help centers, social service agencies and on our website at www.claimscon.org
The Claims Conference is not involved in the administration, implementation or processing of applications for this program.
The information presented herein is intended for information purposes only and solely as a general guide. The information is not intended as legal advice. It is a summary of specific issues and does not represent a definitive or complete statement of the programs and policies of the agencies or governments mentioned. The information may not address the special needs, interests and circumstances of individual recipients. Individual situations differ and recipients are urged to seek individual advice. Individuals seeking specific information on a program are urged to contact the relevant program or to consult their social service agency or help center representative. To the best of our knowledge the information is correct as of the date of this document and this information may change subsequent to the said date. June 2009