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Shipman & Goodwin LLP Provides Free Legal Assistance to Help Holocaust Ghetto Workers Recover German Pensions

February 9, 2011

Shipman & Goodwin LLP has announced that it is once again donating free legal services and coordinating a pro bono effort to assist eligible Holocaust survivors in Connecticut in receiving pensions from the German government.

This new effort was made possible by decisions issued in 2009 by the German Federal Social Court that allow survivors who worked in German-controlled ghettos to apply or reapply for pensions under more liberalized requirements. Those court decisions should dramatically increase the number of approved applications. Previously, the German government interpreted the rules very strictly and made eligibility nearly impossible. Shipman & Goodwin participated in a 2008 initiative to assist former ghetto residents to apply for reparations, which resulted in a number of individuals receiving a one-time payment of 2,000 Euros.

Throughout Connecticut, a number of agencies, including Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford, are reaching into the survivor community to spread the word about the program. Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit legal services organization, has been spearheading this landmark project around the country, including coordinating training for attorneys.

Providing this assistance involves time and persistence. A volunteer team of 12 attorneys and 3 paralegals from Shipman & Goodwin’s Hartford and Stamford offices, along with members of Aetna Inc.’s corporate law department, recently participated in a training session to become well-versed in the new requirements and application process. Attorneys and paralegals are pre-screening potential applicants for eligibility, reviewing prior applications, conducting interviews with applicants and preparing the legal documents necessary to assist their clients. In some cases, even locating clients from 2008 to determine if they want to reapply can be a challenge. But in the firm’s estimation, the effort is well worth it.

“Since the German court's 2009 decision, the results of the ghetto survivors' applications have been very good, with some applicants receiving substantial lump-sum back payments as well as monthly pensions going forward,” said Andrew Zeitlin, a Partner at Shipman & Goodwin who is coordinating the effort. “Given that a substantial percentage of remaining Holocaust survivors live in poverty, these amounts can make a big difference in the lives of successful applicants,” said Zeitlin.

One applicant’s son said he “is extremely gratified that the firm is offering this kind of help to the few survivors that are still alive. It is important to recognize that Germany has come to grips with their obligation to the survivors of the Nazi persecution and accept their responsibility to help these now elderly people.” “However,” he continued, “with all the news about fraudulent claims, I cannot blame them for being careful. As a result, the application process is complicated and having the help of the attorneys will ensure that those who deserve the pensions will receive them.”

For the firm’s volunteers, it is a commitment that is yielding significant personal rewards as well. “Meeting the survivors and their family members has been an eye-opening experience. They have incredible stories and it’s rewarding to be able to give back to them,” said Zeitlin.

Shipman & Goodwin has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to support the community through board memberships in charitable and civic organizations, as advisors to government, and in substantial donations of time and resources to individuals and organizations at the local, regional, national and international levels.

For more information about the program or to schedule an appointment with an attorney, contact Andy Zeitlin of Shipman & Goodwin LLP at (203) 324-8100.
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