Washington state residents who survived the Holocaust are tired of waiting. Despite well-publicized announcements of compensation settlements, survivors are becoming increasingly skeptical about ever receiving a penny.
With patience waning and their numbers dwindling, a group of local survivors have decided to form a new organization to represent their interests. Survivors of the Holocaust Asset Recovery Project (SHARP) was started by survivors and will be run by them.
As evidence of why this organization is necessary, they point to the fact that although more than 800 potential claims have been submitted by Washington citizens in the past few years, only two have been paid. Prolonged negotiations and court proceedings have held up settlement of dormant Swiss bank accounts for more than two years. And a legal standoff has delayed payment to former slave and forced laborers. “We cannot allow the insurance companies and banks to wait out survivors,” wrote Fred H. Taucher, chair of the Board of Directors of SHARP, along with Deborah Senn, chair of the group’s Honorary Board.
SHARP organizers say they will work closely with existing private and public agencies in their efforts — complementing rather than duplicating their efforts.
“We already have a wonderful Holocaust Resource Center in Washington. SHARP is neither intended to compete with nor duplicate its educational and service mission. We are an organization that will work on behalf of survivors to make sure the claims and restitution processes succeed as promised,” Taucher wrote in a letter of introduction to the community.
Taucher said during an interview soon after the organization was formed that he has already made several trips to Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of survivors. He said SHARP is one of a growing number of similar groups around the country that are working together to fulfill their mission. They have joined together to form the Survivors of the Holocaust Foundation USA, which includes representatives of groups in California, Florida, New York, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts and Washington. He described their work as a “grassroots effort” to press for the completion of all the promises that have been made to survivors. Child survivors like Taucher are leading the organization and they are getting some assistance from people in the second generation, whose parents were survivors, including Danny Kadden, a former employee of the Washington Office of the State Insurance Commissioner.
One of their hopes is for survivors to have more influence on the international scene, especially when decisions are made about distribution of compensation. The big international commissions focusing on this issue are made up mostly of politicians and representatives of Jewish organizations, rather than survivors, Taucher pointed out.
The Claims Conference formed in the 1950s to settle Holocaust-related claims has gathered millions of dollars but very little has been paid out. Taucher said survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms have been seen looking for food in garbage cans while a group of lawyers try to decide how to distribute the money gathered to assist them.
“I don’t think the Claims Conference is in touch with what’s really going on,” he said. “I think we can get somebody’s ears. In the state of Washington, at least we got the ears of our state legislators. We passed legislation in the state [to form a Holocaust Assistance Office]. Now we need to make sure the law that was passed will be carried out.”
Taucher expressed concern that the Claims Conference is considering spending some of its money on building memorials. “This is why I say we as survivors can do a much better job than a bunch of lawyers,” he said.
Earlier this month, Taucher attended a meeting of Holocaust educators and spoke on behalf of the survivors group.
“All of us, including myself, are getting older and we’re not going to live forever. And I personally would like to see some money going to the truly needy survivors,” Taucher said. “We’re just getting impatient.”
SHARP may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 206-365-2526, or through the mail at 11300 25th Ave. N.E., Seattle, WA 98125-6639.