A group of Holocaust survivors known as the “Tehran children” was awarded $4.2 million, after a nine-year court battle over restitution.
The Tel Aviv district court made the decision Monday, deeming the 217 claimants as entitled to $19,000 each. The ruling came after an attorney filed suit for the group, stating Israel has not fulfilled part of a compensation deal with Germany that took place six decades ago.
The 217 are part of a group that fled Nazi Europe as children, traveling through Russia to Iran. In Iran, the children stayed in orphanages set up by an American committee, before ultimately settling in Israel in 1943.
The legal issue centers on a 1953 arrangement between Germany and Israel. The Reparations Agreement entails Germany paying funds to the Jewish state, which the Israeli government then disseminates accordingly. The Tehran children never received a share of that aid, until now.
The orphans’ story was a bleak one, even after the end of World War II. Thousands of Jewish children, mostly orphans, escaped Nazi Poland in 1942 to shelters in the Soviet Union. These children were then evacuated to Tehran later that year, along with units of the Polish Anders Army, thanks to help from the Jewish Agency for Palestine.
Once in Tehran, the children received much-needed medical care, food and shelter, though supplies were often short. Through the efforts of volunteers and charitable organizations, however, most of the children regained full health.
After negotiations between the Jewish Agency and then-Palestine’s British administration, the orphans were afforded passes to enter Israel. In January 1943, 716 children traveled through the Persian Gulf to Pakistan, through the Suez Canal to cross the Sinai, finally arriving at a Palestinian refugee camp in February. A second group of 110 children would arrive late that year.
As the children grew, many joined kibbutzim and cooperative farming villages. In Israel’s War of Independence, a large number joined up as soldiers, both as a way to defend their country and as a result of sparse education and little trade skill to fall back on. Thirty-five died in the war and those who survived reportedly had a difficult time transitioning into civilian life.
“Some of the Tehran children testified that after the war they slept in empty buses or in Meir Park in Tel Aviv, because they had nothing, no families and no homes,” Professor Zeev Schuss, one of the Tehran children who testified at the trial, told the Jerusalem Post. In fact, the state did not even recognize the adult orphans as Holocaust survivors until 1997, a fact Schuss said led to a feeling of disassociation.
“It’s taken us nearly 60 years to get justice,” said Moshe Schreiber, who was 13 when he came to Israel from Iran. “All of Israel’s governments, starting with Ben-Gurion’s and ending with this current government, they all refused us reparations. All of them turned their backs on the very weakest element in our society—Holocaust survivors, children and orphans.”
This week, Israel’s courts decided all remaining orphans should receive compensation, not just the 217 who filed suit. Insiders pointed out that many of the surviving children are now elderly and disabled by medical conditions, and are unlikely to come forward and claim their reparation.