Our obligation to the survivors

The very least that a strong Israel can do now is to care adequately for those who suffered most from the absence of a Jewish state.

April 6, 2010 23:27
3 minute read.
Our obligation to the survivors

holocaust survivors yad vashem 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP)


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It is time once again for the annual ritual of feeling collective anguish at the disgraceful plight of our Holocaust survivors. As Holocaust Remembrance Day rolls around, we are reminded that those who lived through the Nazi-instigated horrors that destroyed European Jewry continue to lack basic necessities.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog announced this week that about 80,000 Holocaust survivors would receive subsidies of up to 90 percent on essential medications under an agreement reached with the Treasury, the Health Ministry and his own ministry.

It’s a commendable move, but one that raises disturbing realizations. Sixty-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz and 62 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, there are tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors who are apparently in desperate need of government subsidies to buy medicine.

Absurdly, even this subsidy covers 90% of costs, not 100%. Why? What could justify allowing even one Holocaust survivor to lack basic needs in his or her last years in this world?

Furthermore, tens of thousands of elderly citizens who lived in the Former Soviet Union during the World War II but who cannot technically be defined as Holocaust survivors should also receive such subsidies, along with fully credentialed survivors of concentration camps and ghettos.

Let the Germans, Polish, and Ukrainians nitpick over such technicalities; the Jewish state shouldn’t.

BACK IN November 2007, the government approved NIS 2 billion in aid to assist needy elderly Holocaust survivors. NIS 1b. is earmarked for 2008, NIS 600 million for 2009 and NIS 400m. for this year. But there were problems tracking down eligible survivors.

In February 2009 a radio and TV campaign was launched. In the meantime, according to Ze’ev Factor, chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, 30 Holocaust victims are dying every day. We must do everything in our power to quickly track down Holocaust survivors and alleviate their physical suffering before it is too late.

In a report published in February, the Myers JDC Brookdale Institute estimated that, at the end of 2008, there were 233,700 Holocaust survivors in Israel. This includes anyone who lived in a Nazi-occupied country for any length of time between 1933 and 1945. It also includes those expelled from their homes by Nazi military attacks, who make up 57% of the total number of survivors and are predominately from the former Soviet Union.

About 7% of our Holocaust survivors live in closed medical institutions. Some 10% are eligible for full aid under the National Insurance Institute’s Community Long-Term Care Insurance Law – which amounts to between 16 and 18 hours of home-care a week and another 9 hours provided by Factor’s foundation. Too many receive partial aid or no aid at all.

By 2025, it is estimated that just 46,900 Holocaust survivors will remain. In the last years of their lives, Holocaust survivors suffer disproportionately more than others their age from cardiovascular disorders, insomnia and severe headaches. And about half complain that they lack money for homecare, medicine, taxi fares for medical appointments, diapers, and other basic needs not presently subsidized by the state.

In March 1951, during debates over the materializing deal with Germany for Holocaust reparations which would give a tremendous boost to the economy of the fledgling Jewish state, then-foreign minister Moshe Sharett told the Knesset that “The Israeli government claims the reparations for itself because it sees the State of Israel as bearing the rights of the millions who were slaughtered...”

All the more, Sharett undoubtedly would have admitted, does the State of Israel bear the responsibility for comforting its own Holocaust survivors in their last years. This moral obligation takes precedence over other moral demands such as caring for Sudanese refugees or aiding the earthquake-struck Haitians. As Jewish law dictates, the impoverished who are close to you come first.

Sadly, terribly, the State of Israel was established too late to prevent the Holocaust. The very least that a strong Israel can do now is to care adequately for those who suffered most from the absence of a Jewish state.

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