|Kevin Packman, survivor advocate extraordinaire|
Kevin Packman, a partner with the law firm Holland & Knight, wants local Holocaust survivors to know that he's here to help -- for free. He's in charge of a pro-bono program that finds eligible survivors in South Florida and hooks them up with pensions from the German government for work they did during World War II.
Right now, he says, he's assisted about 100 individuals in getting their due. "And the great majority -- 90 percent -- of the survivors we're assisting are in the Broward/Palm Beach area," Packman says.
"As a kid, I read all the books on the subject," he continues, explaining that he probably first heard about the Holocaust as kid in Hebrew school. "It always sort of fascinated me. Holland & Knight has a big focus on pro-bono community work. So when I heard about this program, I said, 'I'm doing it.'"
Packman says the work turned into close to a full-time job, though it wasn't designed to be that. Most of the people he finds funds for are in their upper 80s or low 90s, and "they seem to be shocked, to say the least, that this really is pro bono," Packman says. "This concept of free is something they're really not used to." Packman's work contrasts sharply with some shady shysters who offered representation only to swindle folks out of the reparation monies or did the work on a contingency basis.
Here's how it works: Germany has a number of programs for Holocaust survivors over the years, specifically for survivors who lived in a ghetto -- whether in Germany, Poland, or annexed areas. If you or your spouse worked in a ghetto, you qualified for a lifelong pension.
The problem was the German govenment rejected at least 95 percent of the applications, according to Packman. A few years ago, Germany began a new program that entitled survivors to a one-time lump payment of 2,000 euros -- not a lot of money.
"A great majority of Holocaust survivors are living below the poverty line," he explains. "That's problematic for people struggling to survive in their golden years."
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That program ended last summer, after which the German high court eased restrictions on who could apply. Previously rejected applicants could take another shot at a real pension, not just a one-time payment.
"If you previously applied for the pension and were rejected, you'd be entitled to a retroactive lump sum, and then your monthly pension would kick in as well," says Packman. "It stands to be a very large sum for the survivors it applies to."
So far, Packman has visited Boca Raton, Plantation, and Aventura meeting with survivors. "We've received about 500 calls," he says. The firm has set up a direct line for survivors, that number is 305-789-7504.