When she moved to Israel from Switzerland some 25 years ago, Aviva Silverman, who was studying law at Bar- Ilan University, thought she could use her mother tongue, German, to volunteer with Holocaust survivors in a Petah Tikva nursing home close to where she lived.

As she offered her services, the nursing home staff handed her a pile of official documents, all written in German.

The papers were in fact forms that Holocaust survivors could fill out to receive financial benefits from Germany.

“I went there once a week and helped them fill out the forms,” she recalled.

“Back then, the benefits were worth something like 270 euros ($350) a month.”

As she became familiar with the issue, Silverman realized the survivors she helped were not aware of their rights and of the benefits they were entitled to from Israel and Germany.

“It is a complicated issue, and only some lawyers would assist them with it, and for significant amounts of money,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

“So I decided to do something.”

With her background in law, Silverman founded the NGO AVIV for Holocaust survivors in the summer of 2007 with the goal of “ensuring that Shoah victims in Israel live in the dignity and comfort they deserve.”

“I have to say that at least 50 percent of the people who come to us are not fully taking advantage of their rights,” she explained. “They think they are getting the maximum amount of benefits they can get and then when we ask them questions, we quickly find out that they are not getting everything they could be getting.”

Silverman and her trained volunteers present the survivors with all the relevant information regarding the benefits they are entitled to receive from various bodies in Israel or Germany. The NGO also helps them fill out the necessary documents and apply for various grants.

“It’s very important to give them personalized guidance,” Silverman stated.

“It’s a lot of bureaucracy to deal with and it’s important that they don’t get frustrated along the way and lose hope.”

To fulfill its goal, the organization has made available a website providing detailed explanations about survivors’ rights; these include video tutorials and documents translated from German to Hebrew. They have also trained some 8,000 professionals and volunteers who usually work with survivors on how to help them maximize their rights and held “Rights Realization” Days. They opened several information desks in different cities across the country to give direct assistance to Holocaust survivors.

The NGO is expected to open its latest information station in Ramat Hasharon next week.

“There are a lot of NGOs who help survivors with food packages and combating loneliness, and I have a lot of respect for people who do that,” Silverman said. “But we are unique in a sense because we help them get the maximum they can get for the long term, there is something very secure about that.

“I think it gives them a lot of dignity and a very different feeling.”

In five years of activity, AVIV has helped some 65,000 Holocaust survivors residing in Israel to receive allowances and benefits amounting to some NIS 130 million.

Addressing the multiple budget cuts over the past year, Silverman stressed the importance of not lowering survivors’ benefits: “In Israel in 2013, there needs to be a status quo stating that we do not touch the benefits they are used to receiving, whatever is already existing and operating today can’t be taken away from them,” she said.

“When they go to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel and then halfway through, the money runs out and they are told they can’t get financial aid anymore, that’s a problem, because they are used to [the funding],” she added.

Silverman, who is a mother of six, said she feels it is her mission to help some of the 192,000 survivors in Israel.

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