Decade of change and hope for Holocaust survivors

During the past decade some very welcome changes have occurred, attributable to the new spirit which Yair Lapid infused into the Finance Ministry.

A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Currently, some 200,000 Holocaust survivors are living in Israel. For thousands of them, the past decade has introduced meaningful changes to their rights, in Israel and abroad. During this past decade, thousands were given some relief from their distressful living conditions, and can now enjoy greater dignity because this is their due, and not as an act of charity.
For 27 years I have battled for improvements to the quality of life of Israel’s Holocaust survivors. I founded the nonprofit association Aviv for Holocaust Survivors in July 2007. Aviv’s vision was clear: Every Holocaust survivor should be able to live with dignity and welfare.
So far we’ve successfully aided more than 65,000 survivors in realizing their rights in Israel and abroad, thus improving their quality of life at no cost to them. Aviv is now the spearhead organization when it comes to social activism for Holocaust survivor rights.
In its early years of activity, I became aware of the tremendous difficulties facing Holocaust survivors wishing to realize their rights. They were not being provided full information on the range of rights they were entitled to, locally and internationally, and also had to cope with bureaucratic complexity and a system insensitive to their needs. Taken together, these elements prevented them from realizing their rights.
Along with them, I felt their pain over the humiliating attitudes prevalent among those very organizations which were meant to grant them services and support. Israel hardened its heart when it came to survivors, dragging them through a web of indignity and torment over every right or benefit they were entitled to by law.
During the past decade some very welcome changes have occurred, attributable to the new spirit which Yair Lapid infused into the Finance Ministry. These include prioritization changes on the allocation of billions of shekels as a budgetary addition to the Authority of Holocaust Survivors Rights, his impact on the Dorner Committee Report, and significant changes in the way the authority actually serves Israel’s Holocaust survivors.
Lapid expanded the pool of rights-holders entitled to monthly reparation payments by virtue of the reparation agreement with Germany, which includes people originating in Western Europe and Germany, and equated their rights to those of Holocaust survivors receiving compensatory payments from the Claims Conference and a stipend resulting from the Benefits Law. The list of recognized illnesses in the Shani Committee Report was expanded so that thousands of Holocaust survivors could increase their monthly pensions from the Treasury.
Lapid took a further step toward improving the status of tens of thousands of survivors who came to Israel after October 1953, the relevant date for the purpose of qualifying to receive German Reparations payments, and opened new tracks by which they would receive an annual grant currently totaling NIS 3,975. Further, Holocaust survivors’ health packages exempt them from the cost of medications. While this is not a monthly allowance, it is a significant step for hundreds of thousands who, until now, had not been recognized by Israel as Holocaust survivors.
The revolution led by Lapid was furthered by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who will be remembered for significantly expanding the amount of recipients of the monthly Holocaust survival allowance with a quarterly grant of NIS 2,500 for survivors receiving health reparations from Germany. He also granted widowed spouses of Holocaust survivors a monthly stipend for the rest of their lives, and increased the number of annual grant recipients to include survivors deriving from Morocco, Algeria and Iraq. Minister Kahlon placed emphasis on ongoing improvements in service and rights accessibility and indeed, over the past few years, evident improvement has been shown in the work of the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority. These include shortened handling times for requests, an upgraded digitized system, and more efficient services in general.
The past decade has shown improvement in the way Holocaust survivors were being related to by the Claims Conference, the German government and other governments. The Claims Conference, operating out of the USA, expanded the number of reparations recipients based on Article 2 Fund (paying a quarterly sum of €1,338); added a new single-payment grant of €2,500 to Holocaust survivors whose childhood was stolen from them, and for survivors who were children on the Kindertransport; and expanded the criteria for an Assistance Foundation grant with a one-time payment of €2,556 for survivors not receiving a monthly allowance.
Germany expanded the list of recognized ghettos, which led to thousands more being able to receive reparation payments: health reparations for some of the survivors who immigrated to Israel after 1953 but were unable to receive this allowance previously, and social reparations for working in the ghetto as well as retroactive compensation; and a one-time payment by Germany for non-coerced labor in the ghetto.
The past several months saw a further change: Germany reached an agreement with Israel on payment of a monthly sum of €100 to €400 for Holocaust survivors receiving monthly health reparations (BEG) from Germany. Additional compensatory tracks were opened with Poland, France and Holland.
There is no doubt that the lives of thousands of Holocaust survivors have noticeably improved during the past 10 years. However, we must continue to be fully committed to this task. The average age of a Holocaust survivor is now 84, and some 14,000 pass away annually. Many are still unaware of the array of rights to which they are entitled, or find it difficult to realize them. The rights of survivors who came to Israel post-1953 still require a good deal of updating. Tens of thousands of survivors live in poverty and their time on Earth is running out. We simply do not have another decade available to improve matters. We have one year. And if we fail, we will surely be remembered as a society worthy of eternal shame.
The writer is an attorney and the founder of Aviv Association for Holocaust Survivors.