Law firms throughout the country are volunteering their services to assist thousands of Holocaust survivors in winning new reparations from Germany.
The German Ghetto Work Payment Program fund was established in September to award reparations to survivors who worked in German-controlled ghettos during World War II. The new reparations — of $2,000 euros or roughly $3,000 — are considered a goodwill gesture to thousands of aging survivors, some of whom are living below the poverty level.
A pro bono attorney program was started in Los Angeles by a legal services organization called Bet Tzedek to recruit attorneys to assist survivors in filling out the applications. The applications, translated from German to English, are complex and not easy to navigate.
In South Florida, where thousands of aging Holocaust survivors live, 75 to 100 lawyers from six law farms have volunteered to help pro bono. The law firms are Weil Gotshal, Duane Morris, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Richman Greer, Baker & McKenzie and Greenberg Traurig.
“Once you hear the stories, you want to help,” said Holly Skolnick, a partner with Greenberg Traurig in Miami. “We probably have more survivors here than anywhere in the country. Attorneys can make a big difference in assisting them.” Two clinics have already been held in South Florida, in Delray Beach, and another one is planned Aug. 12 in Century Village, a large retirement community in Boca Raton. Ten more are planned in future months, although the law firms hope to move quickly due to the survivor population’s advancing age.
Laura Lehman Dray, of counsel at Weil Gotshal in Miami, who is coordinating the effort, said attorneys have assisted 20 seniors so far.
“The experience is quite profound,” said Lehman Dray. “It’s a richly rewarding experience to help survivors.” Law firms are working with Jewish Family Services to reach out to survivors.
“Word spreads very quickly,” said Skolnick.
Volunteer attorneys commit to watching a 45-minute training DVD and participating in a short training conference call. More attorneys are being sought and can call 1-866-635-1090 to volunteer.