A Holocaust survivor shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Some 20,000 Holocaust survivors have not availed themselves of benefits totaling over NIS 100 million, Welfare Minister Haim Katz revealed at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
“We will do everything that we can in order to prevent their terrible suffering and allow them to live in dignity,” he said.
A total of 194,468 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, including 619 who are more than 100 years old and 21,794 of whom are over 90 years old, according to the ministry.
Of these, 65,134 receive assistance benefits.
According to the Katz, whose parents are both Holocaust survivors, upon entering office he was surprised to learn that the Welfare Ministry did not have personal data regarding survivors.
He requested survivors’ ID numbers from the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry, and was told the information was restricted due to privacy laws.
The Welfare Ministry was granted access to the data following a legal battle that saw the appointment of a committee to examine Katz’s request, and the involvement of Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit.
In an exchange of text messages between Katz and Mandelblit spanning two weeks, which the welfare minister read to reporters at the press conference, he wrote: “How many more people have to die until I will get approval to help?” Katz said that within 20 days of receiving the data, his ministry, in collaboration with the National Insurance Institute, was able to formulate a NIS 128m. plan to help the Holocaust survivors obtain their benefits.
The data revealed that 4,193 Holocaust survivors aged 90 and above did not receive care assistance benefits though they were entitled to these funds. As part of Katz’s plan, these survivors are now automatically eligible to receive the benefits.
Furthermore, 3,281 survivors who did not receive additional hours of care assistance provided by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, even though entitled, will be given an additional nine hours totaling NIS 78m. annually.
An additional 5,963 survivors will be eligible for an additional two hours of assistance, valued at NIS 438 per month, and totaling NIS 31m. annually.
The findings also revealed that 14,063 Holocaust survivors did not receive the NIS 112 per month electricity discount they are entitled to.
Katz said his ministry, in collaboration with the NII, will reach out to every survivor to help them obtain their benefits amounting to NIS 119m. annually.
The welfare minister estimated that Israel was able to “save” more than NIS 400m. by not transferring benefits owed to Holocaust survivors over the years.
He believed this occurred due to a lack of information and bureaucratic obstacles, rather than out of intent or malice.
“Like I have said before, a lack of information is often the cause for tragedy,” he said.
The Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry issued a statement in response to the findings: “The Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority provides data to every public body that asks to help Holocaust survivors.
Every claim otherwise is incorrect. The authority regularly sends information to various entities including to the National Insurance Institute, the health funds and more.
“We will clarify that the Welfare Ministry claims are incorrect. The authority requested clarifications from the Welfare Ministry asking it to explain why it requires the sensitive personal information. The attorney-general instructed the authority not to transfer identifying information. Therefore, and in accordance with his guidance, the authority delivered a separate database of personal details of survivors,” the authority said.
“We regret that the welfare minister makes cynical use of Holocaust survivors for his political gain and media headlines. The authority will continue to care for Holocaust survivors with respect, and will allocate all the necessary resources in collaboration and information with all relevant parties. We suggest that Minister Katz look elsewhere for headlines,” it added.