Sir, - Larry Derfner's "For shame" (Cover story, February 16) was responsible journalism at its best.
Historically, Holocaust survivors have been considered "ordinary," if not invisible. The Marshall Plan following World War II treated them as regular war victims, despite the glaring fact that they were not. In my native country, America, neither the healthcare nor the welfare systems accommodated their extraordinary needs. Now I am learning that Israel, the one place where their special needs - and contributions, I might add - should be acknowledged without question, does not either. This has led to their abandonment, again. Even though Holocaust survivors' problems have always been the world's responsibility, this cannot absolve Israel of its own unique share of it.
How long must survivors wait for kindness and consideration? They have so little time. Surely there are Jews and Christians of good will and means who would welcome the opportunity to right these egregious wrongs. We must find ways, quickly, to bring people, organizations, foundations and just plain folks who can repair and renovate, or donate, heaters and airconditioners and supply needed services - perhaps through the hard-pressed AMCHA and Kerem organizations - before it is too late.
Sir, - The heartrending stories of poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in Israel whose elderly years are fraught with suffering is a blot on the State of Israel, which, with God's help, arose on the ashes of Auschwitz. Given the enormous amounts raised for Holocaust museums, the neglect of these all-but-forgotten survivors - such as Jenny Rozenstain, forced to borrow NIS 10,000 for a lawyer to fight eviction from her apartment - is outrageous. It is high time our government, or a philanthropic Jewish organization, began constructing rent-free residences for indigent survivors, who today often cannot afford both food and medication on their meager income. These traumatized Jews could then live out their remaining years with dignity.
Founder, VAT International
Sir, - What a shameful indictment of Israel's treatment of our Holocaust survivors. The heart-wrenching testimony of those interviewed who say they are "used to not eating" reflects the poverty of the (conservatively estimated) 70,000 of this disappearing population.
Larry Derfner ends with the obvious question: Given the number of survivors in Israel and those in European countries, "why are so many hundreds of millions of dollars still being spent... on more Holocaust museums, statues and other memorials?" These are commendable and necessary, certainly, but remembering the atrocity against the dead has vastly overshadowed our commitment to diminish the living remnants' suffering. In this country, especially, where we aspire to the values of justice and compassion, we can't allow this situation to continue.
Perhaps half of every shekel, dollar and euro donated for Holocaust education - the many seminars, conferences for academics around the globe, slick magazines and publications; and for memorialization - marble floors, magnificent windows, testimonial dinners for donors, museum displays - could go to benefit survivors in Israel and elsewhere.
Sir, - It is very sad to read of all the poverty among survivors when so much money is floating around in "claims" accounts. I've followed "benefit" events where only the egos of the organizers received any benefit. There are annual luncheons with speakers and honorees, where attendees pay for lunch, and events - like one I attended in a Florida Jewish community center, whose main purpose seemed to be to provide a forum for organizers and an agency which controls "claims" cash to brag about their accomplishments! After one such event I never returned, nor will in the future. The Claims Conference needs to spend restitution money carefully and more wisely, and with close oversight.
Sir, - My memories confirm the depth, truth and accuracy of Larry Derfner's article. However, I would like to add: Not all Holocaust survivors have received equal treatment. Those who fled from behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s received no compensation whatsoever for their suffering of over 40 years. Because of the disparity in the allocation of funds handled by the Claims Conference, a large percentage of people still receive no assistance whatsoever.
The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) was established in 1998. In 2000, it distributed its Information Pack listing 80 questions which had to be answered by applicants, who were also requested to attach documents to support their claims (i.e. insurance policies).
ICHEIC received over 80,000 applications. Only 128 survivors submitted policies and received a total of $2.3 million by way of compensation. ICHEIC promised to distribute $16 million in humanitarian aid (one-time payments of $1,000). It also reported receiving an additional $500 million for the payment of claims and humanitarian aid. ICHEIC is planning to close down its operations, but nothing has been said of the remaining $480 million and the pending 64,000 applications.
As a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, I submitted some documentary evidence to back my claim, but ICHEIC remained silent. The above notwithstanding, I still believe that not everything is lost. It is a question of joining forces and making our voices heard.
For more information please contact Alfredo Berkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEJANDRO (WIESZ) VARI
Sir, - I fail to understand why survivors should have to pay for basic needs, or why they get the piddling old age pension. Their care and medications should be free. As the rich get richer, the poor seem to get poorer. By right, these survivors should be amongst the richer.
Sir, - Along with a friend, I "adopted" a survivor and we paid her monthly visits, trying to show her some love and warmth until she died. Luckily she was not in need of financial help, but she was very lonely and still traumatized.
There are many ways in which all communities could help survivors. NIS 1 per person, per month, could make an enormous difference to their lives. Lists of who these people are and where they live could be given to synagogues or community centers, and young people assigned to visit and help them. Food has not only to be bought, but prepared, which I know the wonderful soup kitchens countrywide are doing. But there are still hungry survivors.
It does not interest me how much the governments of Germany, France and Austria are giving. They can never pay enough to make up for what they did, but we must look after our own.
You can help
Donations can be made to AMCHA and Kerem in the following ways:
National Israeli Center for Psychosocial Support of Survivors of the Holocaust and the Second Generation
23 Rehov Hillel, P.O. Box 2930, Jerusalem 91029. Tel. (02) 625-0634.
Email: email@example.com. Website: www.amcha.org
The First International Bank of Israel, Rehavia Branch 013, Jerusalem Account No. 105-206466.
The Foundation of the Holocaust Survivors in Israel
17 Rehov Kaplan, POB 7197, Tel Aviv, 64734
Bank Hapoalim, Branch No. 532, Account No. 235843
In "Judging divinely" (February 16), the titles of Rabbi Haim Ben-Atar, Rabbi Yosef Karo and Rabbi Moshe Alshekh were mistakenly omitted.