Thousands of shekels and benefits meant to improve the lives of Holocaust survivors and remunerate them for the horrors they experienced during World War II remain un-utilized each year because of complicated bureaucracy, according to Aviva Silberman, director of the non-profit organization Aviv Lenitzolei Hashoa (Spring for Holocaust Survivors).

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Silberman, a legal expert in survivors’ rights, highlighted that a large percentage of the estimated 200,000 survivors are either not receiving the full benefits they are entitled to, or believe they are not eligible for more, when in fact they could be.

“I am not promising that everyone is eligible but even if they are not entitled to a monthly compensation [under the law for victims of Nazi persecution], they could receive other assistance,” said Silberman, whose NGO provides free advice and assistance to survivors about their rights.

“I strongly recommend that all survivors check their situation very carefully to see if they might be eligible for more help than what they are already receiving,” she said, adding that even reimbursements on medicine, glasses or dental treatment could make a big difference to survivors, many of whom live below the poverty line, relying only on a monthly pension.

According to Silberman, who has worked in the field of Holocaust victims’ rights for more than 20 years, over the years numerous amendments to the law, various government decisions and successive agreements reached between the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany and European governments have meant that more survivors are eligible for more assistance.

Mindful that the process for understanding and obtaining benefits in this country is extremely complicated and bureaucratic, Silberman urged relatives or friends of survivors to help them with the process, whether that means seeking advice or filling out application forms – many of which, she says, are only in German or English.

“There is a severe lack of understanding, many people who came to Israel after 1953 think they are not allowed, so they do not even look into it,” she said. “The whole situation is a big mess, people are very confused. I have been working in this field for more than 20 years and even I do not fully understand the whole process.”

Silberman adds that the misunderstandings or lack of awareness is not only related to survivors who arrived in Israel after the legally defined 1953 deadline for Nazi persecution but also applies to survivors already receiving monthly compensation.

“There are about 40,000 survivors who arrived before 1953 and they think that the compensation they are receiving is all they are entitled to, but we helped one woman receive an additional NIS 3,000 a month that she did not even know about,” she said.

“I do not think that all the problems faced by survivors can be solved but the additional benefits can improve their situation,” said Silberman, adding “at the end of the day survivors are suffering do not know who to turn to.”

On Tuesday, the government announced that it was expanding the budget for services for Holocaust survivors to NIS 225 million for 2012 and that some 8,500 survivors will receive an additional NIS 580 each month.

According to figures released earlier this week by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, 198,000 Holocaust survivors currently live in Israel. Roughly 88 percent of them are over the age of 75 and more than one-third of the survivors live below the poverty line.

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