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An Age-Old Problem

By Megan Kinneyn | Jun. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Jun. 2, 2007

An Age-Old Problem

Meeting the legal needs of Holocaust survivors. By Lorelei Laird

By Lorelei Laird
      Edited by Thomas Brom & Martin Lasden
      Five years ago, attorneys involved with the Holocaust Reparations program at Los Angeles's Bet Tzedek Legal Services thought they'd spend early 2007 radically rethinking their work. With the last remaining Holocaust survivors gradually dying off, the program at the historically Jewish pro bono organization figured it would be needing a new mission.
      But this year, oddly enough, Bet Tzedek finds itself with the opposite problem. "More survivors are living longer, and the resources are totally inadequate to meet their needs," says Mitchell Kamin, Bet Tzedek's president and CEO. The situation, according to Kamin, is serious.
      In response, Bet Tzedek is leading a national effort among organizations that work with Holocaust reparations to develop an alternate funding model that can be used in other cities. (This is not the first time the organization has shown ingenuity in funding crises?see "Going Hollywood" in the May issue of California Lawyer.) In addition, Bet Tzedek is working with the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles to study the needs of local Holocaust survivors. The organization also is hiring a second Holocaust services advocate to explore legislative and policy solutions. These could include pursuing public assistance for survivors, a model that has been adopted in New York City and New Jersey.
      Meanwhile, the day-to-day work in reparations and restitution continues. For example, Hungary has been in the process of reviewing applications for reparations from Holocaust survivors who were in that country during World War II. But paperwork for the applications can be an obstacle: It's sometimes impossible for survivors or heirs to produce death certificates of their relatives and other required documents. That's where Bet Tzedek comes in, working with Hungarian authorities to negotiate solutions and helping people with appeals if their claims are denied.
      Still, as pressing as this work is right now, it won't last forever. Which means that at some point the lawyers who work for the Holocaust Reparations program at Bet Tzedek will have to seriously discuss how to refocus their energies.
      Says one Bet Tzedek staffer, "It will be an interesting conversation."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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