Thousands of Holocaust Victims Were Denied Compensation by Britain, Records Reveal

Prisoners at Dachau concentration camp cheer as they see the Americans of the 7th Army arriving to liberate the camp, May 1945. Newly released files have revealed thousands of victims suffered oppressive questioning by the British authorities after applying for compensation. Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images

U.K. government officials forced victims of Nazi persecution to relive their harrowing experiences for years as they questioned their rights to compensation, newly released records have revealed.

In 1964, the German government agreed to contribute a total of £1 million ($1.4 million) to a fund to compensate British victims or their dependants, and more than 4,000 people applied to the U.K. Foreign Office for compensation.

But only a quarter of the claims were successful, according to accounts revealed by the National Archives on Thursday, despite months—and in some cases years—of thorough and pedantic questioning.

Thousands of claimants were rejected because they had been prisoners of war, so their suffering under the Nazis was not considered illegal.

File after file shows British authorities leveling seemingly insensitive and oppressive questions at claimants. In one session, the interviewer argues over whether a particular camp's conditions were as bad as those in a concentration camp, and in another, the authorities question whether an Israeli citizen might not meet the requirements for compensation because they counted as "a Palestinian" rather than a British subject.

The money was aimed principally at concentration camp survivors who had not won compensation under a separate German scheme set up in 1953.

But most were not successful. Out of 4,206 applicants, only 1,015 received remuneration.

Ludmila Kokrda spent five-and-a-half years in Nazi custody, including a year in Ravensbruck concentration camp. She was forced to work on clearing a swamp, often in heavy rain, wearing nothing but a cotton shirt and living on a diet of beetroot or beetroot leaves and potato peelings.

But she and her husband, a Czech army colonel who had fought in both world wars and had fled to Britain twice to escape the Nazis and later the Communists, were not British citizens. Their application was rejected.

One of the thickest files is that of Auschwitz survivor Leon Greenman, who failed to receive compensation because he had dual British and Dutch nationality.

And in one case, officials spent years investigating the family background of the Anglo-French secret agent Violette Szabó, who was tortured and executed in Ravensbruck concentration camp when she was 23, to determine whether her daughter was entitled to compensation. Her daughter was awarded just £1,293 ($1,864).

"More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, we are still learning about this appalling period in history," Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told Jewish News. "The opening of these important historical archives will help to shed light on the post-Holocaust issues faced by survivors, as well as allowing us to read what was likely to be the first written account many survivors gave of their experiences.

"No doubt they will prove to be essential academic and educational resources."