Bulgarian Holocaust survivors still await compensation
Supreme Court determined that Bulgarian Jews entitled to reparations despite the fact that they were ‘only’ expelled from their homes and taken to concentration camps. However, they are required to present documents to prove their ‘mental disability’
Holocaust survivors are a dying breed, but those who are still with us have to repeatedly contend with bureaucratic hurdles so they can lead a respectful life.
An especially frustrating case is that of the Bulgarian Jews who were informed last fall that they were entitled to reparations, but now learn that it may be a while before they can collect.
A stockpile of documents, psychiatric evaluations, and a confirmation of 25 percent mental disability, are only some of the hurdles that separate them from compensation, not to mention the time factor relevant to most survivors over the age of 80.
'I have no explanation for it.' Eli Yakimov (Photo: Yaron Brenner)
Since the passing of the Reparation Law in 1957, the survivors didn't receive any compensation from the German government, for the reason that they were in fact expelled from their homes in Bulgaria but were not sent to concentration camps.
The court decision did reverse that historic injustice, but this week the survivors received a letter saying they must expose their medical files if they want to receive the compensation (NIS 1050, or USD 234 a month).
'How long do I have to live?'
Additionally, the letter specified, they needed to prove that they were indeed persecuted by the Nazis and as a result suffer from 25 percent mental disability.
Some 7,000 Bulgarian Jews live in Israel today. They all emigrated after the war and never received any compensation. Many are irate over the obstacles Israel is putting forth, even after the Supreme Court ruling.
Eli Yakimov, who was expelled from his home in Verna, said upon receiving the letter from the finance ministry: "It seems that the State is waiting for the people to die. Everyone is very old by now - I'm 80 already. How long do I have to live? It's very frustrating and irritating, especially after the court ruled that we deserve compensation. I have no explanation for it. Today, I'm looking for proof that I used to live in Verna and was forced out. I also need to find all my medical documents from the past 60 years, and it's very difficult.
To add insult to injury the Finance Ministry has decided, for the first time in 11 years, to re-introduce the requirement that any survivor seeking compensation must face a medical committee. This procedure was actually abolished in 1995 in order to ease the pain and expedite the awarding of compensation.
Attorney Shlomo Ben-Porat, who represents about 2,000 Holocaust survivors from Bulgaria, said, "It's unclear why after many years without the medical committees, as soon as the court decision was made the Finance Ministry decided to reenact their role. It's too suspicious."
'They're not doing us any favors'
"Many of my clients have nothing in their file stating mental disability, or any reference to mental treatments," said Ben-Porat. "Usually these people blocked the trauma and repressed it. Trying to lead a normal life in Israel, they wanted a new lease on life and were ashamed to even mention that they were suffering. Even if they did get their medical records, I'm not sure there is going to be any reference to mental distress."
Ben-Porat went on to say that many of his clients also are very angered and insulted by the requirements, especially if one takes into account the small sum the survivors are seeking.
He said one survivor told him: "If they want they can compensate us, and if they don't, they're not doing us any favors and can choke on what they have done to us in the last 50 years. The Finance Ministry demands simply humiliate us."
The Finance Ministry responded to the complaints in a statement saying, "…as is customary in any disability lawsuit, there is need to prove the link between the expulsion that took place in 1943 and the mental disability that exists today. We must have documentation of the medical history of the plaintiff so a psychiatrist can determine whether to approve the compensation. The State acknowledges the fact that it is hard for the plaintiffs to retrieve documents from 1943 if they didn't live in Israel at the time. To make it easier on them we require that they only present medical records from the time they immigrated to Israel. They can find their medical records at their respective HMOs.”