A woman living in Toronto has been formally charged in the U.S. with taking part in a scheme to steal from a Holocaust survivors' fund.
In documents obtained by CBC News, the FBI alleges that Luba Kramrish was part of a conspiracy that falsified documents to claim financial support from a special fund created by the German government after the Second World War.
Germany set up the fund, which is administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, to compensate those who lived through the Holocaust. The money was earmarked for people who fled parts of the Soviet Union, ahead of advancing Nazi soldiers and those who somehow managed to survive ghettos and concentration camps.
The FBI announced charges against several U.S. citizens allegedly involved in the scheme in 2010. Now court documents show the investigation has reached into Canada.
The U.S. attorney’s office claims that Kramrish falsified details for her mother's application to the fund and that once she realized how to cheat the system, she started recruiting applicants, about two dozen of them. In one case, the FBI says, she falsified details to get money for a man who never lived in an area occupied by Nazis. The U.S. indictment says that when he got the money, she took a cut.
A court document states "Kramrish provided documents for approximately 20-25 different cases…[she] helped falsify these applications so that they would be approved."
An elderly camp survivor living in New York, Roman Kent, says he was shocked when told about the charges. “My reaction was, how could it be possible? Who could be so low as to try to cheat or steal money from Holocaust survivors?”
The conspiracy to steal from the fund was uncovered in the U.S. just over two years ago. Greg Schneider runs the New York office where millions of dollars of claims are approved and distributed every year. He was one of the first to notice discrepancies in some of the paperwork coming in.
“Within a couple of weeks we had a mass of material that we thought suggested there was something very wrong going on and we brought all of that material to the U.S. federal authorities, the FBI and the U.S. attorney general’s office.”
The FBI determined a massive fraud was at play and that it had been going on since the 1990s.
“Ultimately several people who were our employees were arrested and it was devastating on many levels,” says Schneider.
The FBI found that the very people who had listened to the stories of survivors had massaged the details and used fake names to submit claims of their own.
The investigation is still underway, but it is estimated that at least $60 million has been siphoned from the fund.
Kramrish’s Canadian lawyer told the CBC that she is not interested in talking about the U.S. indictment.
In the meantime, the German government has tightened restrictions on who can get the money. In some cases, authorities have been forced to ask actual survivors of the Holocaust to prove yet again that they were victims.
Kent says this is a serious issue for elderly survivors. “It is very difficult and many of them are agitated saying, 'What the hell? You want to ask me these questions? I don’t know, I don’t remember.'”
About $6 billion has been paid out to about 450,000 people since the funds were made available.
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