New guidebook published for those who treat survivors

Volume aims to make doctors, psychologists more sensitive to special needs of Holocaust survivors.

With only about 256,000 Israeli Holocaust survivors still alive, the ESHEL organization has translated into Hebrew a detailed guide produced by a Canadian Jewish geriatrics hospital aimed at making doctors, psychologists and others more sensitive to the special needs of those remaining survivors. ESHEL, a voluntary organization owned by the Joint Distribution Committee and dedicated to improving the lives of the elderly in Israel, launched the 256-page guide called Hatipul Benitzolei Shoah Mizdaknim (Treatment of Aging Holocaust Survivors). The original volume, issued a few years ago by the Baycrest Hospital in Toronto (, was prepared by a team of experts led by hospital social worker Paula David. In May, the English version will appear on an affiliated Web site to increase awareness of special treatment for patients who are Holocaust survivors. The new Hebrew edition was translated by Ehud Amir of Yad Vashem, edited by Dr. Natan Durst, Prof. Ariela Lowenstein and Dr. Shmuel Reiss of the University of Haifa's gerontology department and produced by Tuvia Mendelson, director of ESHEL's publications department. ESHEL hopes that the guide will reach a wide audience of doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers and therapists and that its advice will be used as a therapeutic tool. At a five-hour conference on Thursday at Jerusalem's Beit Avi Hai, the speakers noted that during the past year Holocaust survivors have finally been "put on the national agenda," even though this has occurred much too late. Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Ministry for Pensioners' Affairs, said that there is very little data about the condition of survivors here or abroad. According to ESHEL estimates, about a third of Holocaust survivors immigrated to Israel, with the rest in various parts of the Diaspora, especially North America. ESHEL director Prof. Yitzhak Brick, whose grandmother and other relatives were murdered by the Nazis, added that over a third of the elderly in Israel are Holocaust survivors. University of Haifa gerontologist Prof. Ya'acov Gindin, whose father immigrated from Pinsk in 1928 and thus became his immediate family's lone survivor, said he always asks patients of Holocaust survivor age where they were during World War II. Gradually, he extracts information about whether they were in concentration or labor camps and ghettos during the Holocaust and treats them in a special, sensitive way. He advised hospital staffers never to wake survivors up early in the morning to stick a thermometer in their mouths, as "this brings back horrible memories" of their being in the camps and having to stand for roll call. While about a fifth to a third of Holocaust survivors today are in bad physical and financial shape, Gindin noted that many are still in reasonable condition and even make up a large chunk of the subscribers to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts. Numerous survivors bearing traumatic memories do not sleep well at night, Gindin added. "They cry out" in their beds, but do well during the day. As a result of this symptom, many Israeli psychiatrists in the 60s and 70s gave them a mistaken diagnosis of "psychoneurosis" and gave them prescriptions for pills that some take to this day, even though they can be harmful in combinations with other drugs and are unnecessary, Gindin declared. He added that when survivors face imminent death, "they are generally much stronger and tougher" than ordinary Israelis who are terminally ill. Paula David, who flew in from Toronto specially for the event, said that the volume was meant to help those remaining survivors who face loneliness, disease and a surge of helplessness in their old age. Her team consulted professionals who treat survivors to get tips, such as using pleasant aromas in the dental clinic during drilling because many survivors "can't stand the smell of decayed teeth." A full feature on Thursday's conference will appear in The Jerusalem Post's Health Page on Sunday, February 24.