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(photo credit: AP [file])
Under the banner "Every survivor has a name: We must all take responsibility," more than 1,000 people held an "alternative" Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Jerusalem Monday to remember the survivors and protest the conditions of more than 70,000 of them living here in poverty.
Activists, students, government ministers and Holocaust survivors gathered in the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset Monday to remember those who managed to escape Nazi persecution and make it to Israel. The event also protested the day-to-day conditions of more than 70,000 survivors who receive very little financial aid from the government.
"Our goal is to find a suitable solution so that all Holocaust survivors can live out their final years in dignity," Natan Lavon, director of Ken Lazaken, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview before the event, which culminated in a "March of the Living" from the Knesset to Yad Vashem, the site of the official government Holocaust Remembrance ceremony. "We want to change the law to ensure the worthy existence of every Holocaust survivor in Israel."
Lavon noted that more than 1,500 survivors of the estimated 250,000 had died in the past year. "We are not talking about that many people or that many more years to help them," he said.
Detailing specific demands, Lavon said that survivors should ideally receive a monthly allowance and rent subsidy, as well as a yearly aid package for medical equipment and treatment.
"Some Holocaust survivors have to wait for more than a year to receive a pair of glasses," he said. "In order for them to receive health care and medical equipment, survivors face impossible bureaucracy and an extremely lengthy waiting period."
Lavon welcomed recent initiatives made by the newly appointed Minister for Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, who along with MK Colette Avital, head of the Holocaust Survivors Lobby in the Knesset, made a surprise appearance at the event.
Herzog told participants that he was ready to take on the challenge of improving conditions for Israel's Holocaust survivors. He announced his decision to establish a new committee aimed at making formal recommendations to the prime minister to remedy the situation, and said he planned to push to have his ministry take responsibility for the welfare of Holocaust survivors from the Finance Ministry.
"The minister's intentions are very honorable," commented Lavon. "Now, no one knows who is responsible for what, some elements are in the Finance Ministry, some in other ministries; if it was all under one roof then already the situation would be much better."
Avital told the crowd that she did not know how Israel's Holocaust survivors had reached such a desperate point.
"It is hard to explain," she said. "The country's legislation and bureaucracy is outdated, it needs to change and I already see that the first steps have been taken here today."
One Holocaust survivor, Yehudit Mazor, told the Post
that while her personal situation was not so bad, it was shameful to see other survivors still suffering in the State of Israel.
"When I hear how Germany and other countries in Europe treat their survivors compared to Israel, I am shocked," said Mazor, who had traveled from the North to be at the ceremony. "Both my sister and I were children in Hungary during the war, my father survived Auschwitz, but because my sister lived for a time in the US, she is not entitled to any survivor benefits here. So what if she lived in America? She is still a survivor."
Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, active in fighting for the rights of survivors in Israel, also addressed the crowd. He told the audience that "the Holocaust is still here," and that it was up to the younger generation to make sure that society never forgot about the victims' continuing plight.
Nir Ketrarou, head of the youth movements organization, said that groups had come from as far as Dimona and the Golan to show their solidarity with the survivors.
"There is no reason that they should be suffering," he said. "There is plenty of money and they should be cared for. We believe that it is important to show survivors that the younger generation is behind them."