LOS ANGELES (April 11, 2011) -- A McDermott Will & Emery LLP pro bono team has secured an agreement by the German government to make reparation payments to a Holocaust survivor 65 years after her liberation from a Nazi concentration camp.
After applying unsuccessfully to various reparations programs throughout the years, 84-year old Mary Bauer turned to Bet Tzedek, an organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income survivors of the Holocaust through pro bono partners such as McDermott. Applying for restitution has been enormously complex and challenging for many elderly survivors like Ms. Bauer who face such escalating costs as health care.
The Firm was successful in obtaining reparation and pension payments for Ms. Bauer pursuant to a ghetto pension law (ZRBG) enacted by the German government in 2002. The ZRBG provides that Holocaust survivors who performed work in Nazi ghettos during World War II could apply for social security pensions. At the outset of the ZRBG pension program, 87 percent of applicants were denied pensions due to restrictive interpretations of the law. In June 2009, the German Supreme Court issued a series of decisions liberalizing the ZRBG requirements.
At the outbreak of the war, Mary Bauer was a twelve-year old living with her parents in the suburbs of Budapest, Hungary. Ms. Bauer was expelled from school for being Jewish, then later forced to wear a “yellow star” - a badge used to identify Jews in Hungary. In May 1944, shortly before her 16th birthday, Ms. Bauer and her family were deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. From Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ms. Bauer was then transported to various camps and ghettos until her liberation by the Russian Army in 1945.
In late 2010, the McDermott team met with Ms. Bauer and prepared various forms and documentation for submission to the German government, in hopes of attaining some marginal contribution for Ms. Bauer’s work as a weaver where she converted the shorn hair of prisoners into items used for the Nazi war effort. Only two months after the McDermott team submitted its case to the German government, Ms. Bauer received a payment of $6,130 as well as notification that she would receive pension payments of €78.97 each month for the rest of her life.
“Ms. Bauer and her family endured unimaginable hardships as victims of the Holocaust. It gives us tremendous satisfaction that we were able to obtain these reparation payments that she so deserves and that were so long in coming,” commented McDermott partner Joel Bernstein who represented Ms. Bauer along with associate Pantea Lili Ahmadi.
Ecstatic about this result, Ms. Bauer described McDermott’s work as "way above . . . the call of duty.”
To date, more than 90 McDermott lawyers have devoted over 1,700 hours to assisting Holocaust survivors, nearly all in their 80s and 90s, in completing Germany's complex application process for reparations. McDermott was honored as a coordinating and participating member of the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network (HSJN) which received the 2009 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award.
“We are proud of McDermott's on-going participation in this very worthwhile and important initiative on behalf of these survivors,” added Latonia Haney Keith, McDermott's Pro Bono Counsel, who coordinates the program Firm-wide.
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