The German government will make a one-off compensation payment to survivors of the Kindertransport program, which rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and brought them to Britain.
From January 1, the now elderly survivors — most of whom arrived without any relatives in Britain eight decades ago — will be eligible to claim compensation of €2,500 ($2,800) per person.
The announcement comes 80 years after the start of the humanitarian rescue operation, which saved the lives of around 10,000 children and teenagers from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland).
The program was set up as a result of ongoing negotiations between the German government and the Claims Conference, which administers compensation for Holocaust survivors.
The organization’s president, Julius Berman, announced the news on its website. “Our team has never given up hope that the moment would come when we could make this historic announcement,” he said.
The Kristallnacht pogroms of November 1938, when the Nazis attacked Jews and their property across Germany and Austria and carried out mass arrests, prompted many Jewish families to search for a way out for their children. Less than a month later, on December 1, 1938, the first transport of 196 children left Germany for Harwich, England.
Most were taken in by British families, while those aged 16 or older were helped to find work or training. The final group left from the Dutch port of IJmuiden on May 14, 1940 — a day before the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.
German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Chaudhuri told AFP: “This one-time payment pays tribute to the special destiny of these children. They have had to leave their families in peacetime, in many cases, never to see each other again.”
Stuart Eizenstat, who represented the Claims Conference in the negotiations, said that “after having to endure a life forever severed from their parents and families, no one can ever profess to make them whole; they are receiving a small measure of justice.”
The specific eligibility criteria, which will not bar survivors who previously received a small compensation payment in the 1950s, were determined by the German government.
The UK’s Association of Jewish Refugees, which will help some of those eligible to make their claims, welcomed the announcement.
The group’s chairman, Sir Erich Reich, said in a statement: “I am sure my fellow Kinder will join me in expressing our appreciation for this gesture payment from the German government.
“While no amount of money can ever compensate for our emotional or material losses, this award recognizes our experience of being separated as children from our parents and having to live in an alien country with a foreign language and culture, and the unique story and act of rescue of the Kindertransport.”
According to Germany’s finance ministry, by the end of 2017, the country had paid out more than €75 billion in compensation to victims of the Nazis.