Ghetto pension law extended
On 5 June the German Bundestag unanimously passed legislation approving back payments of social security pensions for people – including many Holocaust survivors – who worked in ghettos under Nazi-German control during the Second World War.
All Holocaust survivors who currently receive a Ghetto pension will now have the option of having the pension re-assessed with a new “start date” of 1 July, 1997, regardless of when the original application was first made. This will result in an additional lump-sum payment to any survivor whose current pension start date is later than July 1997. Until the passage of this amendment, most pensioners have only been able to receive payments dating back four years prior to the approval of their claims.
In 1997 survivors of the Lodz ghetto were granted pensions in recognition of the “work” they performed there. Under the 2002 German ghetto pension law (known by the acronym ZRBG), entitlement to a pension was widened to people who had performed work in any ghetto under Nazi control.
However, applicants to the ZRBG were frustrated by overly strict interpretation of the criteria by local German authorities resulting in the denial of 61,000 out of 70,000 claims. It is estimated that some 40,000 survivors worldwide, with an average age of 85, will now be entitled to an additional lump sum award. The respective pension authorities that pay the pensions will contact pensioners direct to inform them of the decision and to advise how much in back pay they will receive.
The additional lump sum is separate to any payment received from the Ghetto Fund, which provides a one-time payment of €2,000. Originally, payments under the Fund were to be deducted from the pension but this rule has now been abolished; there is no filing deadline for the Ghetto Fund.
The new law also provides for any future applicant for a Ghetto pension to have a “start date” back to July 1997. These pension reassessments will also apply to widow/ers who receive the ghetto pension is respect of their late spouse.
It should be noted though that the complication of this revision to the law is that depending on the recipient’s age, a pension backdated to 1997 might result in lower monthly amounts, the difference of which must be deducted from the original lump-sum they received when the pension was made. Therefore, it may be advantageous for some people to decline the earlier start date. Each survivor will be given the option.
With this Bundestag vote granting back payments to 1997, entitled persons can now opt either for (i) a back payment retroactive to 1997, combined with potentially smaller future monthly payments (current pensions have a supplement for each year in which no pension was drawn from age 65 upwards), or (ii) the continued payment of the present higher monthly amount, but without back payment.
Starting in July, letters from the German Social Security authorities will be sent to each of the 40,000 pensions in local residence language affected by this change.