In a hefty brief to the Special Master in charge of making
recommendations for the distribution of $1.25 billion Swiss
Bank Settlement Fund, the Agudath Israel World Organization
showed that traditional Jewish educational institutions and
religious communities should be included among the
beneficiaries of the Fund. Marshaling evidence that they were
prime targets of Nazi genocide efforts, including
documentation that an absolute majority of the victims were
religiously observant, the brief argues that yeshivos and
kehillos are also key factors in the future of the
The Fund was established by a group of Swiss banks in
response to allegations of their unlawful actions during
World War II, including the charge that they unlawfully
retained accounts deposited by Jews before the war, and that
they collaborated with the Nazis by accepting property looted
or confiscated from Jews and Jewish institutions.
Last week's submission was filed by Agudath Israel World
Organization with Special Master Judah Gribetz, who is
preparing a recommendation for U.S. Federal District Court
Judge Edward Korman as to how the settlement fund should be
allocated and distributed. Mr. Gribetz's recommendation is
due on March 15, with a final plan to be decided upon by
Judge Korman later in the year.
Agudath Israel World Organization, an 88-year-old
confederation of Orthodox Jewish communities worldwide, has
championed freedom of religion since its inception and, since
1948, has enjoyed consultative status with the United Nations
as an officially sanctioned non-governmental organization.
Its submission was authored by its director of international
affairs and United Nations Representative, Professor Moishe
Zvi Reicher, and Agudath Israel of America's executive vice
president for government and public affairs, Chaim Dovid
Zwiebel, assisted by government affairs associate Mordechai
Biser. Washington-based attorney Nathan Lewin and his
daughter Alyza Lewin, as well as Brooklyn Law School
Professor Aaron D. Twerski, were "of counsel" on the
The gist of the Orthodox group's submission is that the
yeshivos and kehillos that the Nazis and their
supporters sought to destroy in the Holocaust and which were
reestablished both in Europe and on other shores after the
war should be regarded as prime candidates for a significant
share of the settlement funds.
From a purely legal standpoint such institutions and communal
structures deserve consideration as members of the "Looted
Assets Class", an officially assigned grouping of fund
recipients. "Every yeshiva and kehilla in pre-War
Europe," explains Professor Reicher, "possessed a variety of
tangible assets, including valuable religious artifacts like
Torah-scrolls and precious-metal ornaments," that were looted
by the Nazis.
Furthermore, yeshivos and kehillos have a profound
historical and moral claim on restitution funds. "They played
a central role in pre-War European Jewish life," the
submission notes. "They were clearly targeted for persecution
and destruction by the Nazis; they have labored assiduously
and heroically to rebuild themselves in the post-War era;
they play a vital role in contemporary Jewish life; and they
serve as a central factor -- perhaps the central factor -- in
ensuring Jewish continuity for generations to come."
The Nazis, moreover, sought to destroy not only Jews but "a
whole culture, or way of life, as embodied in the educational
and communal institutions that promoted that uniquely Jewish
way of life."
Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's chief ideologue, said that "the
honorless character of the Jew [is] embodied in the Talmud
and in Shulchan-Aruch" -- the texts that remain mainstays of
yeshiva study to this day. Also, an October 25, 1940
directive issued by the German Highest Security Office
prohibiting Jewish emigration from occupied Poland, contends
that an influx of Eastern European "Rabbiner"
"Talmud-lehrer" and "Orthodox ostjuden" could
foster "geistige erneuerung" (spiritual renewal) among
"The Nazis understood," says Mr. Zwiebel, "that, more than
anything else, Jewish education guarantees Jewish continuity
and Jewish survival -- and they were right. Where there has
been no Jewish education, there has been rampant Jewish
Indeed, Agudath Israel's submission cites many studies that
show the correlation of Jewish religious instruction and
It is thus only fitting, contends the brief, that the very
Jewish education that guarantees survival of the Jewish
people should be assisted out of "funds paid by economic
allies of the Nazis."
Religious Jewish communities today that trace their roots to
earlier European communities should also be considered prime
candidates for a share of the Swiss funds. They have kept the
names of their original European locations, are often led by
religious leaders who are descendants or disciples of their
pre-War forbears and are guided by the same life-
philosophies, approaches to Jewish observance and prayer.
Appended to the Agudath Israel submission is a hefty volume
of historical material, the fruits to date of a major project
undertaken under the group's auspices to research and present
a comprehensive study of the centers of Torah and Chassidus
that were destroyed in the Holocaust. The research project is
being overseen by a committee headed by Professor Reicher,
and including a number of other highly regarded personalities
in the world Orthodox community, including: Rabbi Chaskel
Besser, Mr. Avrohom Biderman, Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Davis, Mr.
Benjamin Fishoff, Rabbi Shmuel Halpert, Mr. Pinchos Kornfeld,
Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, Councillor H. J. Lobenstein, Mr. Dovid
Moskovits, Mr. Zwiebel and Mr. George Klein who, Professor
Reicher says, "was the prime impetus for this monumental
The committee has been working with a team of distinguished
historical consultants, headed by Rabbi Meir Wunder and
including Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Dr. Martin C. Dean, Reb
Yosef Friedenson, Rabbi Binyomin S. Hamburger, Dr. Severin
Hochberg, Rabbi Eliezer Katzman, Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, Dr.
Yitzchak Mais, Dr. Saul Stampfer, and Rabbi Berel Wein.
The historical appendix to the Agudath Israel Swiss Bank
submission includes a letter from Dr. Michael Berenbaum
attesting "with certainty" that a "majority of the Jews who
were murdered [in the Holocaust] were Orthodox." Dr.
Berenbaum, a distinguished historian who served as director
of the Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C., estimates the Orthodox percentage
of the Holocaust's Jewish victims at between 50 and 70
"Thus," says Professor Reicher, "it is clearly fitting to use
funds misappropriated from the War-era Jewish community to
help strengthen institutions and communities that are
guaranteeing the perpetuation of the way of life lived by so
many of the Nazis' victims."