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Posted Wednesday, January 20, 1999

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 WE REPRODUCE with acknowledgements this article from
The Wire: News from the Associated Press

January 16, 1999

Battle for Compensation moves to USA

Americans Were Hurt in Holocaust Too


IT HAPPENED even to American citizens: Greta Leibowitz was 10 years old when she and her sister played with Anne Frank amid corpses at the Bergen-Belsen death camp in Germany.

Now retired in California, she awaits the compensation Germany has just agreed to pay hundreds of U.S. citizens -- including Jewish GIs -- who were imprisoned by the Nazis.

"They didn't care I was an American citizen. All they cared about was that I was a Jew," said the 65-year-old resident of Reseda, Calif., near Los Angeles, whose last name is now Rhoads.

The money can't compensate for the horror of "waking up each morning, and not knowing whether my mother or sister were still alive. You often woke up next to dead bodies," said Rhoads.

Her 11-year-old sister "was so sick she wasn't moving, I thought she was dead," said Rhoads, sobbing and unable to speak for a moment. "I screamed and she moved and I said 'Oh my God, she's alive."'

About 230 survivors who were U.S. citizens when they were inmates of the camp are to receive one-time payments of $30,000 to $250,000 each, depending partly on how long they were held, said Steven Perles, a Washington attorney who represents some of them. They include Rhoads' 66-year-old sister, Barbara Maaskant, of Boca Raton, Fla.

Their father, a naturalized American citizen, had returned to his native Hungary before the war to marry and raise a family in the town of Munkach, outside Budapest. In 1944, while he was working in New York, the Nazis arrested his wife and daughters, forcing them to march for a week to cattle cars that took them to Germany.

In the men's barracks at Belsen was another American, Jack Wolf, now 69 and living in New York City. Before the war, his Brooklyn-born father had moved with his own parents to their native Amsterdam. Wolf was born just a walk from Anne Frank's house.

By 1945, when the British liberated Bergen-Belsen, Greta Leibowitz's father, Sam, "was almost certain we were dead," she said. But one day in Manhattan, a soldier showed up at the restaurant Leibowitz owned on Broadway with photos of the family -- proof they had survived. Greta weighed 40 pounds at liberation.

Being a U.S. citizen "is the reason I'm still alive," said the mother of two, retired from her job in Hollywood's entertainment industry. "Otherwise, we would have gone with all my cousins who were taken away to gas chambers at the beginning of the war."

Ironically, she came closest to death after the war at an American hospital in Germany. She had presented her mother, Rose, with a rose -- and pricked her finger.

"I was so weak, and I got a bad infection that almost killed me," she said.

Being American also saved the lives of Wolf, his parents and his sister, who now lives in Florida.

Months before liberation, the family was suddenly transported from the northern German camp to the Swiss border and exchanged for German nationals deported from the United States.

When Wolf stepped off a ship in New York in 1945, he was a rebellious 16-year-old and "found everything wrong with this country."

"But then," said the retired federal government employee, "I grew up, and realized that no matter how much is wrong in this country, this is the greatest country in the world. As a Jew, I am a minority among many others."

The reparations grew out of a 1995 settlement of survivor Hugo Princz's court battle with the German government. The New Jersey man and 10 others split $2.1 million in that case. Attorney General Janet Reno then asked Justice Department officials to try to determine whether other Americans might be eligible.

It could take up to six months for the hundreds of others to receive the funds, pending final approval by the German parliament. The exact terms are to remain secret until then, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

"Six months, you're kidding me!" said Rhoads, among the youngest in the group. "When you think about the age of these people, it's just impossible that they're dragging this out. How dare they?"

William Marks, another Washington lawyer representing victims, said "the true significance of the payments is psychological -- Germany's recognition of the wrongs it committed."

Wolf's catharsis came last year, when he visited his old Amsterdam neighborhood.

`Three times I stood in front of the apartment where I was taken from," he says. "I didn't have the guts to ring the bell. Finally, one day, I rang, and nobody was home."

An elderly stranger on a bicycle approached Wolf and said: "You know, I am terribly sorry. I am very, very ashamed of what happened to you."

Wolf replied: "'Don't be. Sir, I am standing here."'

"I get tears in my eyes now," said Wolf. Being American "means everything."

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