Battle for Compensation moves to
Were Hurt in Holocaust
writes VERENA DOBNIK
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
death camp in Germany.
Now retired in California, she awaits
the compensation Germany has just agreed
to pay hundreds of U.S. citizens --
GIs -- who were imprisoned by the
"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
$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
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
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
"I was so weak, and I got a bad
infection that almost killed me," she
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
It could take up to six months for the
hundreds of others to receive the funds,
pending final approval by the German
exact terms are to remain secret until
then, the U.S. State Department
"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
Wolf's catharsis came last year, when
he visited his old Amsterdam
`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
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
"I get tears in my eyes now," said
Wolf. Being American "means