Federal court turns back Pink Triangle Foundation application to neediest victims fund
U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, presiding over the distribution of reparations money from Swiss Banks to Holocaust victims, has rejected a request by the Pink Triangle Coalition, described as “an international coalition formed to advocate for homosexual victims of the Nazis,” to divert one percent of unclaimed funds to various programs involving research, commemoration, and location of gay survivors of the Holocaust.
Korman’s April 2 decision, which also ruled on a similar request from Disability Rights Advocates, concluded that the amount of money available to assist identified needy survivors was too small to justify diverting any of it to the special programs that were being suggested.
Pink Triangle Coalition was trying to obtain part of a $60 million fund that has been allocated to what is called the “Looted Assets Class,” which involves compensation to people whose property was seized by the Nazis, who then used Swiss banks to shield and disperse moneys realized from the looting. Formed in Berlin in 1998, the Coalition originally made a claim for one percent of what was a $1.25 billion dollar fund in its entirety.
Korman worked from the assumption that virtually every Holocaust survivor suffered looting of their pre-war holdings.
Since establishing an adjudicative process to determine the exact amount of looted asset reparations claimed by each survivor would result in substantial delays in getting compensation to now-elderly surviving victims, and would also eat up a good part of the fund through administrative expenses, Korman proposed to distribute the fund equally among the neediest identified survivors, some of whom are living in abject poverty.
The Pink Triangle Coalition and the Disability Rights Advocates made their proposals in the form of “objections” to Korman’s proposed disposition. In each case, forceful arguments were made as to why it has been difficult to identify surviving victims falling into those two categories, as a result of which those classes of survivors will be under-compensated. In both cases, part of the funding request was to undertake research projects to identify more survivors entitled to compensation. Pink Triangle was requesting one percent of the Looted Assets fund.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) was charged with the task of locating and distributing money to needy survivors. From the outset, Korman accepted the proposition that gay victims of the Holocaust were a distinct group, and the IOM’s charge included locating such victims. Korman noted that by the time the special master he had appointed had delivered a progress report, “the IOM had reached over 50,000” needy survivors not previously identified, most of whom were Roma (popularly known as gypsies). “The IOM has had far less success identifying homosexual targets of Nazi Persecution,” Korman commented.
“The lack of success in identifying homosexual victims has not been for want of effort,” he went on, pointing out that the IOM had contacted 50 gay organizations and foundations, but “to date the response has been extremely limited. It has simply been extremely difficult to identify survivors of Nazi persecution who were targeted for victimization because they were homosexual.”
In its written objections to the proposed distribution, the Pink Triangle Coalition, which had itself only been able to identify “seven living needy survivors” who were targeted for persecution because they were gay, insisted that “providing assistance to these seven individuals inadequately represents the amount of suffering inflicted on homosexuals by the Nazis.”
The Coalition submitted extensive documentation on anti-gay activity in Germany, to which Korman reacted with appropriate dismay, commenting, “Without question, this is a terrible history, and without question, this history places homosexual survivors squarely within the definition of the Looted Assets Class for allocation purposes. But that alone could be said of all survivors of Nazi persecution.”
What is different about the gay survivors, as the Coalition pointed out, was their post-war experience. While other survivors were the beneficiaries of organized relief efforts, and received modest reparations from the West German government, the gay survivors continued to be treated as criminals in Germany, where the sodomy law was not reformed until 1969 and the state did not acknowledge the wartime persecution of gay people until 1985. The countries occupied by the Nazis during the war also continued to maintain and enforce criminal sodomy laws long after the war. Gay survivors were unlikely to come forward under such circumstances, especially since many were not “openly” gay.
The Coalition sought funding in support of four goals: first, providing modest monthly pensions to the identified needy gay survivors; second, undertaking scholarly research in an attempt to locate more needy gay survivors; third, promoting education of students and the general public about the Nazi persecution of gay people; and, fourth, to advance contemporary efforts to end anti-gay persecution through the support of educational, outreach and humanitarian programs aiming to prevent a repetition of the Nazi era experience.
Korman decided that the basic flaw in this request, and in the similar request from the disability rights group, was that they overlooked the fact that the concept of the Looted Assets Class was not to make reparations to groups but rather to individuals.
“There are no sub-classes within the Looted Assets Class or any other class,” he said. “All victims of the Nazis were presumed looted, and all had an equal right to allocation through the Looted Assets Class. Put differently, the original purpose was to provide restitution to each individual victim, irrespective of why he or she was targeted by the Nazis. Thus, the allocation to the Looted Assets Class will be successful or unsuccessful based on how much meaningful restitution it can provide to members of the class, regardless of whether it perfectly reflects the target group breakdown of Nazi victims.”
Korman felt that he could not “justify” bending the original purpose of the fund to spend its scarce resources on educational and research activities when there were so many identified needy survivors.
“In fact,” he wrote, “the needs of individual survivors are overwhelming, and the settlement fund is nowhere near sufficient to address them all. There are 135,000 identified destitute Jewish survivors in the former Soviet Union alone, many of whom are in danger of starving without continued assistance. The needs of survivors elsewhere, while perhaps not as great, also cannot be ignored. While the numbers are lower, Romani survivors face the same basic plight. The settlement fund has only begun to alleviate this need.”
Korman also asserted that it was likely that some proportion of the Jewish, Romani, and Jehovah’s Witness survivors who have received compensation from the Fund are gay, so the small number of specifically identified gay survivors does not represent the only gay people who have received restitution. Korman made a similar argument with even more force in response to the disability group’s claims, observing that a substantial portion of the individuals who have received compensation to date have had disabilities.
“The goals of remembrance, education, and advocacy are important,” wrote Korman, “particularly for groups such as homosexuals and disabled victims whose place in the Holocaust is often improperly overlooked. That is why I was willing to consider concrete proposals such as the Pink Triangle Coalition’s and the DRA’s. But these goals––while explicitly targeted by well-funded foundations such as the German Foundation Future Fund and the French Fund––were not the focus of this lawsuit. They can only come after I am satisfied that the life-sustaining needs of the neediest victims of Nazi persecution are met.”
Of course, the search continues for needy gay survivors, and anyone with relevant information should contact Judge Korman’s chambers at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn with that information.