Of the 193,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, some 50,000 live in poverty, according to a report that came out Wednesday.
The report by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel consists of several elements, including updated statistics the foundation has gathered, as well as two surveys – one conducted among Holocaust survivors, and one among the general public.
Of the Holocaust survivors surveyed, 45 percent indicated they felt “alone,” and one out of every five had been forced to choose between food and other necessities during the past two years due to financial insecurity.
Chaya Kujikaro, a 76-yearold survivor from Romania, could not hold back tears as she described her living situation at the press conference announcing the report’s findings.
Kujikaro and her husband made aliya after 1953, and as such she is not entitled to the same rights as Holocaust survivors who arrived earlier.
“I want to ask the government: Why, if you made aliya after 1953, are you not considered a Holocaust survivor?” she asked.
Kujikaro lives off of a National Insurance Institute pension with her 90-year-old husband, who suffers from heart problems and is confined to a wheelchair. They are forced to spend thousands of shekels every month on medications and medical treatments, and their apartment is too small for the wheelchair to fit into the bathroom and shower.
“It is very difficult for us, and we don’t see any exit from this [situation]. Sometimes we just want to end our lives, but this is not how we want to [die],” she said.
She is not alone in this predicament.
According to the survey, 60% of Holocaust survivors are worried about their financial situation.
More than half of them (55%) said they were unhappy with the way the government treated them, and 61% said they had not felt any difference in the past year regarding government assistance and treatment.
“If the state was a bit more considerate, could help us a little bit, how much longer [could] we live?” Kujikaro said.
The findings also indicated that 43% of Holocaust survivors fear that the Holocaust will happen again, and one out of three survivors worries that the younger generations will not remember the Holocaust.
In comparison, the public survey findings indicated that a majority of the general population, 84%, believed the treatment of Holocaust survivors was “not good.”
Of the respondents surveyed, 52% believed that a majority of Holocaust survivors live in poverty, and only 10% said they believed the Holocaust survivors’ situation was “good or adequate.”
In addition, 56% of the public said they did not believe the government had made any change this past year in regard to treating and assisting Holocaust survivors.
While only 39% of those surveyed said they knew a Holocaust survivor, 73% of the respondents believe that the public will remember the Holocaust even after the death of the survivors.
The survey of Holocaust survivors was conducted by telephone in the second half of March among 400 survivors living in Israel and reflects a +/- 4.9% margin of error. The public survey was conducted March 23 and 24 by telephone and questioned some 500 Jewish adults age 18 and up, with a +/- 4.5% margin of error.
“The mission of the foundation, of the government and of Israeli society is a national task of primary importance, and we have a duty to take care of the welfare of Holocaust survivors until their last day,” said foundation chairman Avi Dichter.
According to the report, the average age of Holocaust survivors in Israel today is 85, and approximately two-thirds are women.
Each year an estimated 13,000 survivors pass away.
During the past year, a third of Holocaust survivors – some 70,000 people – requested assistance from the foundation. Of those, 65% are above the age of 80, and 45% are above the age of 86. Furthermore, 86% live on a monthly income of less that NIS 5,000 and 66% live on a monthly income of up to NIS 3,000.
“The needs of the Holocaust survivors will increase until 2015, and this is a critical time in which the foundation expects an increase in requests,” said foundation CEO Rony Kalinsky. “The window of opportunity of the next five years is coming to a close, and now we must harness everything concerned into concrete actions [to enable] a life of dignity for Holocaust survivors in Israel.”
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Yair Lapid announced a NIS 1 billion 10-point national plan to assist survivors for the next five years.
The plan essentially calls for the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy, transferring allowances directly to survivors’ bank accounts in an effort to improve their conditions. In addition, it calls to raise the minimum allowances for all Holocaust survivors who receive monthly pensions, and would entitle survivors to a 100% discount on pharmaceutical drugs included in the health basket, compared to the 50% deductible they have today.
Furthermore, the national plan calls for the allocation of NIS 277m. to end 61 years of disparity and equalize the allowances of the approximately 18,500 Holocaust survivors who made aliya after 1953, with those of survivors who arrived in the country earlier.
“This is a dramatic decision; it is the first time the government will provide direct allowances to survivors without bureaucracy,” said Dichter.
He added that there remained “exceptions” to the plan, and that the foundation was already able to identify a few thousand survivors whose status remained unclear under the new proposal. However, despite this, he said he was “full of hope that the money would be transferred to the survivors quickly and with maximum efficiency.”
He further cautioned against delaying the implementation of the plan, which is set to come up for approval at the next cabinet meeting on Sunday.
MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors, said this year’s report reflected an improvement from previous years, and stressed the importance of the new national plan to assist survivors.
“Finally there is an understanding that the time frame for improving survivors’ quality of life is limited, and we must act here and now,” she said. “The State of Israel is obligated to assist Holocaust survivors and their spouses still living among us and enable them to live with dignity and welfare.”