Swiss Fund restricts eligibility for Roma Holocaust survivors

The Swiss Special Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust decided on August 24 that only those Romani victims who were imprisoned in camps or under similar conditions during the World War II are eligible to apply to the Fund, despite previous statements that the Fund would give support to all persons who were persecuted for racial, religious, political or other reasons, and those who were in any other way victims of the Holocaust.

The fund was founded in February 1997 by major Swiss banks and businesses, in response to criticism from Jewish and other groups that the Swiss profited from the war. It made its first payments to Roma Holocaust victims in March this year, when three German Roma received payments of 2,420 German marks each (see Roma Rights, Spring 1998). According to the New York Times, Mr Lorenz Wolffers, the Fund's spokesman, stated on August 15 that the Fund intended to make payments to some 2,000 Roma in Germany. Nevertheless, reportedly due to an unexpectedly high number of applicants, on August 24 the Fund decided to change eligibility rules retroactively from June 22, the new restrictions applying only to Roma. Jewish Holocaust survivors will still be eligible regardless of whether they have been in concentration camps or not.

At a meeting in Prague on August 27, Mr Yves Petermann, the Fund's field co-ordinator, informed local Romani associations of the latest decision, although only three weeks earlier the Fund had announced that aid would be offered not only to Roma who are former concentration camp prisoners, but also to "persons exposed to adequate danger". Mr Čenĕk Růžička, president of the Committee for the Compensation of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH), told the that "the Roma are once more being cheated", and condemned the decision of the Swiss Fund. In response to the VPORH of September 4, Ms Barbara Ekwall, the Fund's secretary general, stated that "support from the Fund is not guaranteed by a claim - no promises can be given beforehand concerning the acceptance or rejection of an application." The VPORH and the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno will continue tracking down and helping the few remaining survivors who are still entitled to receive financial support from the Swiss Fund to apply. Hundreds of thousands of Roma were killed by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II because of their ethnic background.

(Committee for the Compensation of the Romani Holocaust, ERRC, New York Times)

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