Hanna was seven years old during World War II and almost starved to death in the
streets of the Warsaw ghetto. Today, she is 79.
Although she lives in the
Jewish state and is no longer the victim of anti-Semitic persecution, Hanna is
still wandering around hungry in the streets of Jaffa.
On the eve of
Holocaust Remembrance Day, we all remember the atrocities committed in Europe by
the Nazis and their collaborators. Every year, on the 27 of Nissan (April 19
this year), we observe a minute of silence and refrain from going clubbing or
indulging in nice meals at restaurants. Rather, most of us spend the evening at
home watching Schindler’s List, thinking about the 6 million Jews who were
murdered in the Holocaust.
In fact, we think about it all year long; when
we send our children on trips to Poland or when we, along with every diplomat
visiting Israel, pay a visit to Yad Vashem. We strive to educate the new
generation about this tragic time in history, and are all adamant to make sure
that the dead will not be forgotten. But are we so obsessed about these 6
million dead Jews that we forget about the living ones? When we see an old man
with that tattoo on his arm, we automatically think about the terrible ordeals
that he must have endured in the 1940s.
Do most of us ever think that
this man could be enduring a terrible ordeal in the present? No, we do not,
wrongly so. Out of the 250,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, more than a
quarter live below the poverty line. This means that many of the people who
survived the Nazis’ atrocities and sought shelter in Israel do not have enough
money to afford basic living costs such as a home, food, medical treatment and
clothes. Above all, this means that Jews who were hungry in the ghettos and in
the death camps 70 years ago are still hungry today, in the Jewish
How did we get to this terrifying reality? Having immigrated to
Israel under a reign of terror, the vast majority of Holocaust survivors arrived
destitute, without the financial resources to give them a secure start. This
disadvantage has continued to plague them throughout their lives and many have
reached old age without the savings necessary to ensure that they can live their
last years in comfort.
Although many survivors receive monthly payments
from Holocaust compensation programs and/or the Israeli government, as they have
aged and begun to experience increased health problems, many of them have found
that these payments are not sufficient to cover their most basic needs. Indeed,
Holocaust survivors in Israel are twice as likely to experience chronic
illnesses as other people their age and nearly half report trouble
Furthermore, a significant proportion require regular
medication for trauma-related mental health disorders. Increasingly, the bills
for necessary medical care are swallowing their small income, leaving them
unable to pay for basic living costs.
Furthermore, one of the
consequences of old age is the loss of close relatives. Sadly, in the case of
Holocaust survivors, this situation is further compounded by the fact that many
lost their families in the Shoah and were unable to build new ones in Israel. As
such, over 40 percent of survivors in Israel are single and about a quarter live
Without a support network to look after them, many Holocaust
survivors are living on the periphery of society with no-one to ensure that
their basic needs are met.
In addition, one must realize that these
people need to make great efforts to be recognized as Holocaust survivors by the
State of Israel and receive compensation. A significant number of legitimate
victims of the Shoah do not have the mental or physical strength to face these
bureaucratic difficulties and receive compensation, and are in great need of
financial support consequently.
As Chairman of the Foundation for
Holocaust Victims Elazar Stern said, “The needs of needy Holocaust survivors
will continue to grow... The younger generation will not forgive us if we do not
deal respectfully with the older generation.”
Holocaust survivors will
soon disappear. In addition to our grief and remembrance of the Shoah as a
historical tragedy that must never be forgotten, let us not forget the living
victims of the Holocaust and let us all rally to help them. Whether this help
translates into donations or volunteer work, let us all remember the dead and
the living victims of the Shoah and take action. We can only do so for a few
more years, so let us all make sure that we will be active on this Yom Hashoah,
otherwise not only will the younger generation not forgive us, we will not
forgive ourselves.The writer is a grant coordinator at The Jaffa
Institute, a private non-profit organization that provides food parcels to
Holocaust survivors in the south Tel Aviv area. In the Jaffa Institute’s service
area there are approximately 15,000 Holocaust survivors, among which 4,000 are
living in poverty. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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