(JTA) – Belgium’s finance ministry has exempted dozens of Dutch Holocaust survivors from penalties for not reporting special pensions they received from the Netherlands.
The New Flemish Alliance, the ruling party of the Belgian state of the Flemish Region, led a reform in federal tax regulations implemented this month that exempts the survivors living in Belgium from the heavy penalties imposed on them.
The penalties were imposed last year on recipients of a payment from the Netherlands known as WUV, which is given to some Holocaust survivors by the Dutch government’s Pensions and Benefits Council. In letters sent to WUV recipients living in Belgium, the Belgian tax authority demanded they pay back the WUV payments paid to them since 2013.
Hans Knoop, a well-known Dutch Jewish journalist living in Belgium, has lobbied the government with the survivors. Johan Klaps, a lawmaker for the New Flemish Alliance, helped push the exemption reform, Knoop told JTA, with the cooperation of Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt.
“The New Flemish Alliance deserves every credit for their role in solving the plight of Holocaust survivors who, out of the blue, were suddenly squeezed to pay thousands of dollars they did not have – with devastating effects to their mental well-being,” Knoop told JTA on Tuesday.
Elly Blik, a Holocaust survivor and WUV recipient who has been living in Belgium since the 1980s, said she was “deeply troubled by the penalties,” adding she was not aware of the need to report WUV payments to the Belgian tax authorities. Belgian recipients of special pensions are exempt from taxes on that income.
“The tax authority should not be going after 90-year-old war victims,” Blik said.
The New Flemish Alliance became Belgium’s largest party in the 2014 elections and is part of the coalition. It has made statements against anti-Semitism and has led legal and administrative actions to fight the phenomenon. The party is also largely supportive of Israel and enjoys strong ties with leaders of Flemish Jewry.
Still, some politicians from the New Flemish Alliance, which is one of several parties supportive of a ban on ritual slaughter of animals in Belgium, have been embroiled in scandals involving perceived pro-Nazi sympathies and alleged anti-Semitism. One lawmaker, Karlijn Deene, this year attended a meeting of Belgians who fought for Nazi Germany. In 2014, Interior Minister Jan Jambon of the party apologized for saying that although Nazi collaborators were wrong, “people had their reasons.”
In recent years, the New Flemish Alliance has distanced itself from sympathizers of Nazis and has undertaken efforts to commemorate the Holocaust.