The long, slow wait for compensation

"I can remember it as if it were yesterday," says Czech-born Hana Greenfield, of what she endured at the hands of the Nazis.

Sitting in a Prague pizza house, the elderly woman betrays little self-pity as she relates an ordeal that included years of forced labor at a soap factory in the Bohemian town of Kolin and internment at the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

But she becomes most animated when speaking of the frustration she feels over compensation. "We've been waiting for 56 years. The authorities have just been waiting for us to die so they don't have to pay us," she says in a deep voice. "In my case, I applied six years ago, and there has been delay after delay as the people in authority argued over the money."

Ms. Greenfield considers herself one of the fortunate ones. She is a Holocaust lecturer and author of factual accounts such as "Fragments of Memory," and "Man is Not a Number." For her, writing has provided an income. "There are many survivors who can barely pay their bills," she says. "The money being offered by the compensation fund is ridiculous. But for many, it is desperately needed."

It's still not clear how many people will be eligible for Germany's newly released compensation for Nazi slave laborers. The chief administrator for the compensation fund said he expects as many as 1.5 million applications, which must be filed by Aug. 11. Applicants must provide proof to back up their claims.

Slave laborers - defined as those forced to work in concentration camps or ghettos - can receive as much as $7,000. Forced laborers, who also endured extremely harsh conditions, can receive as much as $2,350.

Greenfield says no amount of money will ever truly compensate those who suffered. "[The Nazis] took away our homes, our families and friends - and erased our identities. Why can't [the German government] just hand over the money now to those few who are left to make their last years more comfortable?"

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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