There are an estimated 200,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, a quarter are whom are living in poverty.
Some 50,000 survivors in Israel are living a low quality of life, according to Aviv for Holocaust Survivors, an organization which works to inform survivors about their rights and helps them navigate the bureaucratic process, all free of charge.
Founded 12 years ago by Advocate Aviva Silberman, the organization has helped Holocaust survivors receive a total of NIS 400 million. She said that she started Aviv because she was seeing how so many Holocaust survivors were struggling with financial woes, and she saw this “as a chance to help them.”
“Thousands of them do not take advantage of all their rights, whether granted to them by law or under various programs,” she explained. “They are unaware of benefits due to them from Israel’s Finance Ministry, from Germany, from the Conference
On Jewish Material Claims against Germany, from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, and [from] other agencies.”
She said that over 50% of those who have come to Aviv receive some sort of compensation.
Asked about why these survivors have slipped through the cracks, she said that there are several factors that contribute to their situation – including the fact that survivors just don’t know about their benefits and what they’re entitled to, what forms to fill out, how to fill out the forms, or where to hand them in. She also pointed out that “forms to the Germans need to be in German or English.”
Moreover, although Germany pays retribution to survivors, those who moved to Israel after 1953 do not receive these benefits,
because the agreement that was signed between Israel and Germany was in 1952, and the Israeli government decided to compensate only those who moved to Israel prior to 1953 when payments began.
“There have been situations where brothers and sisters moved to Israel, but one came before 1953 and another after 1953, and they were in the same place, the same camp or ghetto – but they cannot [all] receive the monthly stipend because they came at different times.”
These survivors only receive a NIS 4,000 stipend once a year from the government, which Silberman and Aviv for Holocaust Survivors are appealing to the government to rectify.
Silberman also said that the poverty situation was exacerbated because some survivors were unable to study professions, as well as the fact that some suffering from psychology problems, which has hindered their ability to work.
And she said that this pattern has also carried over to children of Holocaust survivors.
Silberman said, however, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “I have been a lawyer for 20 years, and over the last five years I have seen how the situation for Holocaust survivors is changing.”
She explained that the Finance Ministry began to transform its laws and policies with regard to Holocaust survivors under former finance minister Yair Lapid and later under current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. “They have changed the laws and they are continuing to make the amount Holocaust survivors receive higher.”
“We encourage Holocaust survivors to come forward – to ask about their benefits. Because in many cases what they were told they weren’t entitled to several years ago, they may be entitled to today,” she explained, adding that new ghettos and camps have been added to the list of those whose survivors are entitled to compensation.
Silberman also made it clear that the government has done a lot for Holocaust survivors. “Four years ago, a law was put in place that Holocaust survivors get health care and medication free of charge.”
Aviv for Holocaust Survivors also focuses on improving their quality of life. This is large part of the reason why it works so hard to make sure they receive the money due to them, whether it’s from the German government or the Israeli government.
“Holocaust survivors should live with enough of an income to live a good standard of life,” she said explaining that they have had cases where survivors have only been able to afford the very basics.
“One case was a man who would go to the shuk [outdoor market] and could only afford lower quality food and fruit. He dreamed of being able to buy exotic fruit and better quality food,” Silberman recalled. “We helped him and he received an amount... he was so excited that he could finally afford to buy such foods.”
She cited another case of a woman whose brother was living in America and she could not afford to visit him. “The woman hadn’t seen her brother in many, many years. We helped her and she received NIS 70,000 in compensation – and she was finally able to visit him.”
Many Holocaust survivors are also grandparents, “and grandparents want to spoil their grandchildren, but because of their financial situation they have not been able to – with our help, this has now changed.”
Asked what improvements still need to take place, she called upon the German government to change its laws. “The Israeli government has changed their laws and improved, but the Germans have not.”
“There is still a lot of Holocaust survivors living in poverty, and the German government needs to pay more to the Israeli government. The Israeli government keeps increasing the amounts, but again, the Germans have not – and they should, because at the end of the day, they are responsible for the Holocaust, not the Israelis,” Silberman concluded.
Aviv for Holocaust Survivors held a rally, called March of the Living, in support of all living Holocaust survivors, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.