Pro Bono Work on Holocaust Survivor Pensions

I have mentioned before that my father is a Holocaust survivor, and in this post I wanted to recognize some outstanding pro bono legal work performed on my father’s behalf in applying for and obtaining pension benefits from the German government. In particular, I want to recognize two lawyers for their tireless efforts: Phyllis Brochstein at the NYLAG’s Holocaust Compensation Assistance Project and Konstantin Hoppe of Weil Gotshal.

Under a German law enacted in 1997, and expanded in 2002, Holocaust survivors who were in the ghettos before the ghettos were liquidated are entitled to pensions from the German government for their “voluntary” work performed for the Nazis. At the time, able-bodied men in the ghetto could agree to perform manual day labor outside the ghetto for the Third Reich in exchange for benefits such as food. My father, then a teenager, was one of the people who did this work when he was in the Vilna ghetto from 1941-1943.

Although the German government expanded the law in 2002, most of the claims applications from survivors initially were denied, including my father’s. As I understand it, my father’s application was typical among those initially denied: the magistrate ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the work my father performed was “voluntary” rather than “forced.” (Because the new law expanded a pension statute designed to provide pensions for employees of the German government, it could not apply to forced laborers, and the initial ruling was that my father’s labor was forced, not voluntary.) Earlier this year, however, the German Federal Social Court issued a new ruling that took a broader view of such terms as “voluntary,” and thus overturned many of the earlier denials of the applications. With the benefit of the new court ruling, my father became eligible for the pension.

Ms. Brochstein of NYLAG and Mr. Hoppe of Weil Gotshal’s Munich office served as my father’s pro bono lawyers during the long road to obtaining these benefits, and I wanted to thank them publicly for their effort. It meant a lot to my dad.