Salem, Massachusetts — Holocaust survivor Boris Abel survived more than four years in concentration camps. The Nazis killed two of his sisters. And his factory, his offices and his home in Lithuania were taken from him during the war.
He also lost some rope.
Certainly no one could repay Abel for everything he’d suffered in the war. But he remained determined to get back the 90 British pounds — now about $135 — he’d paid just days before the war started for a shipment of hemp that turned out to be defective.
The amount of money “was not the point,” Abel, 85, said. “I thought, they got cash money from me back then. Maybe they will give it to me now.”
It took 60 years, but he finally got it.
After sending two dozen letters over six decades, the British government’s Department of Trade and Industry sent Abel a check this summer for $3,000 in American currency — the equivalent of 90 British pounds, plus 60 years of inflation.
Before the war, Abel had notified the hemp company’s underwriter, Lloyd’s of London, about the damaged shipment. But Lithuanian mail service was frozen when the war began, and England declared Lithuania enemy territory since it was taken over by Russia, and later by Germany.
Abel’s first attempt to get his hemp money was in 1945, when he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp.
But even after the war ended, England kept frozen all assets seized from enemy countries. Though Abel himself had been a victim of England’s enemy, he still couldn’t get his money back.
After the war, Abel spent a year in a United Nations camp for displaced persons, and another three years trying to survive in Germany while waiting for permission to emigrate to the United States.
He landed in New York in 1949, and the United Nations paid for him to go to Salem because he remembered that his father had received New Year’s cards each year from a relative who lived there.
Abel eventually got married to a local girl and opened an electric razor repair shop in Salem. And he never forgot the 90 pounds that Lloyd’s of London owed him for the defective hemp.
Several years ago, Abel read something in a newspaper that gave him hope. England was trying to return seized property. Abel wrote yet another letter asking for his money. This time, he got something back: a thick pile of blank forms.
Eventually he received confirmation from the British government that his debt would be repaid. Ironically, the government even decided to speed up payment by a few months because of his age.
He received the check this summer. Abel gave half of the money to his brother and half the money to his grandchild.
Now Abel continues to wait on a much greater claim: $650,000 in 1939 currency, which he says covers his home, factory, and offices that he lost.
Abel, however, isn’t confident he’ll see any of the money. His wife, Julia, knows that it could be years before the matter gets resolved, but the effort might be worthwhile.
“You never know,” she said. “We waited 60 years — and look what happened.”
On the Net: The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims: www.icheic.org
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