In Israel alone, there are approximately 180,000 elderly Holocaust survivors, 25% of whom unnecessarily live below the poverty line.
Unaware of the financial entitlements they are owed by the government for their profound suffering and loss, these men and women are now in the twilight of their lives, when they need aid more than ever.
As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, the Israeli NGO Spring for Holocaust Survivors, is launching a national campaign to help at-risk survivors cut through bureaucratic red tape to procure money that could mean the difference between life and death.
Although most survivors are legally entitled to assistance of up to NIS 9,000 a month from various government funds earmarked specifically for their needs, about half remain unaware of such invaluable resources.
Among those who are aware of the money owed to them, many are charged prohibitive rates from attorneys who pocket a sizable percentage of the funds, or are incapable of filling out the necessary paper work.
Aviva Silberman, a seasoned attorney, founded Spring for Holocaust Survivors in 2007 to “ensure that each and every survivor lives with dignity and welfare.”
Since then, by simply helping thousands of survivors fill out government forms, Spring for Holocaust Survivors has obtained roughly NIS 250 million via the Finance Ministry, the German government, and the Claims Conference.
Nonetheless, Silberman, who does not charge for the NGO’s services, says 45,000 survivors living in Israel remain impoverished because they have not taken advantage of their rights under the law and existing programs.
Despite opening eight centers across the country to help survivors fill out paper work and which delineate their legal and financial rights from the Finance Ministry, Germany, Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, and Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, many survivors continue to endure needless poverty.
Zev Kedem, 82, of Haifa – who survived incarceration at six death camps beginning at age five, including Auschwitz and Mauthausen-Gusen – said on Tuesday that the NGO’s assistance has ensured he will live the remainder of his life in dignity, without the fear of poverty that afflicts so many others.
Kedem, who was born in Poland near Krakow, said he survived the camps by being “silent and invisible.” He briefly worked for Oskar Schindler, but lamented that he did not make his life-saving list.
“No child under the age of 13 was supposed to survive,” he said of that time.
At the conclusion of the war, after being liberated from Mauthausen-Gusen at age 10, Kedem was orphaned. Aided by the United Nations Refugee Organization for Children, he went on to live in several foster homes in Oxford, England, before attending college at the University of Glasgow.
In 1960, after earning an agricultural engineering degree, he made aliya and lived on a kibbutz. Forty years later, he discovered that his mother had survived the war – only shortly before her death.
Due to the enduring post-traumatic stress he suffered during the Holocaust, Kedem said he had financial difficulty for many years.
“Because I was taught to be silent and invisible to stay alive, and was so systematically exploited, I had problems standing up to institutions that owed me money,” he said, noting that for many years he survived on roughly the NIS 2,000 he received monthly from the German government.
“I subsisted on limited levels, until a year and a half ago, when the lawyers at Spring for Holocaust Survivors helped improve my situation by substantially increasing my pension.”
While Kedem said he is uncomfortable discussing the details of his newfound income, apart from noting the majority of it comes from the Israeli government, he emphasized that it is important for him to inform other survivors with similar difficulties to get the help they need.
“I could not break through the bureaucratic walls, and was totally incapable of filling out the paperwork myself to get the money I was owed, and I am enormously grateful to them,” he said of Spring for Holocaust Survivors.
“It really changed the quality of my life, and I pray that others will go to them so they will no longer have to live in poverty.”For more information, survivors and family members can call 072-242-4404 or go to www.avivshoa.co.il/about.