The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, which specializes in Holocaust reparations issues, announced Monday that it will distribute $401 million this week to 130,681 Nazi slave laborers -- including more than 4,300 in California -- from 62 countries around the world.
The organization has distributed a total of $1.3 billion to former slave and forced laborers, said Gideon Taylor, the executive vice president of the conference in New York. The bulk of the money came from a fund created in 2000 by the German government and financed by major German corporations. About $200 million came from a settlement Jewish organizations reached with Swiss banks in 1998.
Each survivor will receive about $3,000.
"There is no price that can be paid for the suffering of Holocaust survivors," said Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. "Those who labored under the Nazis endured the worst that humanity can devise and no amount of money can change that."
Nonetheless, he said, "The payments are a potent symbol, one for which we fought very hard."
Nearly 62,000 recipients live in Israel. More than 33,500 live in the U.S. Others come from Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Hungary. Thirteen countries, including Albania, the Bahamas, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, each had one recipient.
The range of countries "shows that this is an issue for survivors all over the world," Taylor said. People who were forced to work in a concentration camp, a labor camp or a ghetto "are having their suffering recognized," he said.
Taylor said the conference had reviewed 150 Holocaust archives in 30 countries to find names of eligible claimants. The research led to payments for more than 30,000 survivors "who otherwise lacked any documentation of their persecution," he said.
"Claims Conference researchers scoured paper and microfilmed lists -- often handwritten and not alphabetized -- in order to match the names of claimants to any documentation that would meet the requirements established by the German Foundation," Taylor said.
Lidia Budgor, 78, who lives near the Skirball Cultural Center in Brentwood, is among the 4,326 in California found eligible. Budgor was 14 when her family was moved into a ghetto in Lodz, Poland. While there, she distributed food rations, she said.
Budgor said that in August 1944, when she was 18, her family was sent to Auschwitz and within hours her father, mother, two younger brothers and two younger sisters were exterminated in gas chambers.
Soon thereafter, Budgor was transported to Stuthoff, a concentration camp in the eastern suburbs of Gdansk, Poland. While there, she hauled bricks and cut bread.
Budgor said that on many days she opened the window in the bread-cutting room and, outside the view of her Nazi supervisors, "dropped crumbs" to a near-starving woman. Later, she became emboldened and gave the woman pieces of bread beyond her daily allotment.
Budgor said she and a group of other women were liberated by the Russian army in March 1945, after barricading themselves in a pig sty. "We were a horrible sight," she said.
Like many survivors, Budgor moved from one displaced persons camp to another before coming to the United States in 1952. She married and raised a family.
Now, Budgor said she spends a good deal of time helping other survivors, including many who are poor and have acute healthcare needs.
Asked about Monday's announcement, she said, "I feel very good about it. We deserve it."