Train to Auschwitz 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This year, as in previous years ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the media
have focused heavily on the severe poverty and substandard living conditions of
many Holocaust survivors.
Newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet have
featured profiles of Holocaust survivors living in rundown flats that lack basic
Survivors who were on the receiving end of the lethal hatred
that swept across Europe are disappearing, and many of those who remain are in
desperate need of aid. Over the past year alone, about 12,000 Holocaust
survivors have passed away – more than one every hour – according to data
published this week by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in
Israel based on a survey carried out by the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee-affiliated Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. If in 1961, during the trial
of Adolf Eichmann, the 500,000 survivors living here made up about 25 percent of
the population, today there are just 198,000, about 2.5% of the
Probably the most infuriating pieces of data from that same
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute report – based on a survey of 52,500 survivors
supported by the foundation – is that 5% complained they did not have enough to
eat. In Israel of all places, it is essential that everything be done to ensure
that no Holocaust survivor goes hungry or is left without proper medical
However, the annual publicity campaigns that sweep the nation at
this time of year with the implicit message that not enough is being done for
Holocaust survivors – and that the State of Israel is to blame – project a
distorted picture of reality. Over the past year the government has increased
the amount of annual aid to Holocaust survivors by NIS 6 million to NIS 206m. In
addition, the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany and various
charities also contribute to the welfare of the survivors.
help but wonder whether these campaigns are motivated by the desire on the part
of various charity organizations to exploit Holocaust Remembrance Day as an
opportunity to fund-raise not just for the survivors but also to perpetuate
expensive administrative infrastructures that employ
Allegations of fraud at Hazon Yeshaya, a charity that claimed
to feed Holocaust survivors, have probably not made it any easier to raise
Campaigns that focus on the poverty of survivors also create an
image of them as charity cases, when, in reality, many of those who lived
through the hell of the Shoah somehow found the strength to put all that behind
them and embark on the daunting challenges that faced the fledgling Jewish state
– fighting our many enemies, absorbing immigration and creating a society made
up primarily of refugees and immigrants.
As Holocaust scholar Hanna
Yablonka has pointed out, the vast majority of survivors who came to Israel
focused on rebuilding their lives and building the new Jewish state – and they
were wildly successful, worthy of being called heroes.
found a core of inner strength that is hard for us to comprehend,” noted
“Their collective story is one of personal and human
Holocaust survivors have left their mark in every field from
building and construction to the IDF, industry, law and culture. They became
prominent painters, graphic artists, poets, writers, dancers, actors, academics
and cultural icons.
Indeed, it is impossible to imagine the State of
Israel today without their many contributions.
It is essential that we do
everything in our power to ensure that needy survivors’ live their last years on
earth without want and in dignity. But we must not allow the image of the
survivor as a charity case to dominate public discourse.
As the number of
the survivors dwindles, there is another story to tell, a heroic one of
overcoming the horrors of their past and the adversity of their current
situation, providing an inspiration to us all.