Government approves extra benefits for 8,000 more Holocaust survivors

Advocacy groups welcome move but say "it's still too little, too late."

Groups representing Israel's Holocaust survivors welcomed the historic law passed Monday evening that will increase the number of survivors eligible to receive additional government benefits, but they claimed that the move was still "too little, too late." "This is coming very late, is too small an increase and does not help enough people," Natan Lavon, director of pensioner's rights group Ken Lazaken, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "However, it is finally a step in the right direction by the government of Israel." The Knesset unanimously approved the new law, which will provide an additional 8,000 Holocaust survivors - who until now had not been eligible for compensation from Germany or from the Israeli government - with a payout of NIS 1,000 a month and a yearly grant of NIS 400, as well as other non-fiscal benefits. The law, which will go into effect on April 1, will also provide extra financial assistance to some 143,000 elderly citizens, not necessarily survivors. Pensioners under the age of 80 will receive a further NIS 24-31 per month and those over 80 between NIS 181-267. The increases will cost the government roughly NIS 1 billion a year. "This is a huge victory for both the government and Holocaust survivors," commented Noah Flug, director of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel (COHSI), an umbrella group that embraces 28 Holocaust survivor organizations. "This is the first time in many years that the government has decided to help all victims of Nazi atrocities, including those who were in the ghettos or only a short time in the camps." However, he continued, "it is never going to be enough" to make up for the suffering experienced by these people. Flug said that the new arrangement, which was put in motion by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, sent a very positive message to all Holocaust survivors. "This is a first step to improve the quality of life for Israel's survivors," said Herzog. "I thank the prime minister, ministers, MKs and Holocaust organizations that approved this bill and while I know there are other points that need addressing, we will make every effort to deal with them." Nathan Durst, director of Amcha, the national center for psycho-social support of survivors of the Holocaust and the second generation, said that while the law was a positive change, it was being implemented too late for many survivors who still suffer on a daily basis from their experiences during the war. "Many Holocaust survivors that we treat feel that they have been neglected and also that their time is running out," he said. The most recent study on the status of Israel's Holocaust survivors by the Fund for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors in Israel found that more than 40 percent of Israel's estimated 260,000 survivors live below the poverty line.