US VP Joe Biden and his wife Jill at Yad Vashem 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration would
appoint a “special envoy” that would work as a liaison with Holocaust survivors
and the non-profit organizations that support them.
At the American
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Centennial luncheon, on Tuesday, Biden
said that the new liaison in the US Department of Health and Human Services
would help support initiatives that improve the lot of survivors in
The liaison would also encourage the private
sector to do more to meet survivor’s needs.
Biden also announced a
partnership between the White House and the federally funded AmeriCorps Vista,
who will allocate some of the 8,000 AmeriCorps volunteers to serve Holocaust
Biden also praised the work of community organizations and
institutions that have provided aid and relief to poverty-stricken survivors of
“Today our country took a major step forward towards
addressing the needs of many Holocaust survivors,” said Michael Siegal, who
heads the Jewish Federation of North America Board of Trustees.
looking forward to working with the special envoy to raise awareness and help
ensure that Holocaust survivors receive the support of programs, to help them
live with dignity and comfort.”
According to the Jewish Federation,
two-thirds of the 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the US live alone, and many
struggle to afford basic needs such as proper food and healthcare.
percent of Holocaust survivors in the US, and half of those in New York, also
live below the federal poverty line.
These factors put Holocaust
survivors at risk for being placed in institutions for elderly care that,
Director of the Jewish Federation’s Washington Office William Daroff wrote in
June, could be especially traumatic for them.
“For one thing, survivors
have special sensitivities to aspects of institutionalized care. The loss of
privacy and autonomy, combined with certain sights, sounds, smells or practices
– such as showers or mass transit – can trigger psychological effects that flow
from their war-time trauma.”
Biden’s announcement is the latest in “years
of conversation” between the White House, members of Congress, representatives
of the Jewish Federation; and Jewish Family and Children Service agencies to
ensure that survivors are cared for as they age.
In June of this past
year, US Congress introduced legislation requiring that survivors be provided
with services to support them to live at home for as long as they are able
The Rush Act – Responding to Urgent needs of Survivors of the
Holocaust – prioritizes Holocaust survivors as those with the “greatest social
need” under the Older Americans Act, which is in the process of being renewed
“As Jewish Federations continue to raise needed funds to
support social service programs for Holocaust survivors, we will use the
momentum from the vice president’s announcement to draw extra attention to this
cause,” said Jerry Silverman, the president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of
“Enabling Holocaust survivors to age in peace is vital for
health, comfort and security and brings dignity to this vulnerable
Biden, in his speech, also reaffirmed the US’ commitment to
defending Israel. “The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the only
certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people.”