NGO: Third of survivors don't get all benefits

Holocaust Survivors' Spring says tens of thousands of survivors unfamiliar with the benefits due them by law.

holocaust day 2008 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
holocaust day 2008 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Tens of thousands of Israeli Holocaust survivors miss out on an estimated NIS 250 million per year, simply because they are unfamiliar with the benefits due them by law, according to Aviv Lenitzoley Shoah (Holocaust Survivors' Spring), a nonprofit organization founded in mid-2007. Many thousands of survivors who fail to receive the benefits are in desperate need of help to pay for health care, the NGO's founder and director, Aviva Silberman, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "About one-third of the survivors" - mostly the poor - "would see their situation improved if they learned to take advantage of all the benefits available to them," Silberman said. An attorney who has worked with survivors for 15 years, including as a salaried employee of the Claims Conference, Silberman believes one of the main obstacles to survivors' welfare is a widespread lack of knowledge about the organizations and benefits available to help Holocaust survivors. "In my experience, 90 percent of the social workers themselves, whose profession is to help the survivors, don't know what benefits are out there," she said. "Even the organizations [that help survivors] don't know what is offered by other organizations." This is because no one body coordinates among the disparate groups, which include various Israeli state agencies, the German government, the New York-based Claims Conference, the Tel Aviv-based Foundation for the Welfare of Holocaust Victims in Israel and others. The key, Silberman said, was to get the information to the survivors and to shepherd them through the process. "The government has talked about establishing an information center for a long time, but we can't wait for the politicians anymore," she said. An Aviv Lenitzoley Shoah listing of available benefits from 15 different organizations includes many instances of unused funds. For example, survivors who do not qualify for compensation payments, despite having spent time in ghettos or concentration camps during World War II, are eligible for an NIS 1,000 monthly stipend from Israel that can even be paid retroactively from October 2007. Similarly, survivors who became partially disabled due to Nazi persecution or in battle against the Nazi regime, and made aliya before October 1953, may be eligible for a stipend of at least NIS 1,073 per month from the Finance Ministry. Those receiving funds from the Claims Conference's Article 2 Fund may be eligible for more money from the National Insurance Institute and a discount on their property and television taxes. As survivors age, the Welfare Foundation offers one-time grants of up to NIS 4,000 for medical equipment and medications, funding for an emergency call service for elderly survivors living alone, and money for dental care and eyeglasses. Some of the benefits are more specific. A special fund offers up to NIS 12,000 per year to poor survivors from Hungary. A similar fund helps poor Austrian survivors and their families, and yet another offers grants to those from France who lost parents during the occupation of that country. The Finance Ministry's Office for Rehabilitating the Disabled offers a 10 percent increase to regular rent stipends for survivors living in public housing, while an organization representing veterans of the Red Army offers help with applying for a newly-created Finance Ministry stipend for soldiers and partisans from the period. Aviv Lenitzoley Shoah, less than a year old and with a staff of just seven, is not yet large enough to help survivors directly, Silberman said. Instead, it conducts workshops for social workers and volunteers, who in turn help the survivors. This week, the department of rehabilitation for Holocaust survivors within the Finance Ministry announced the establishment of a unit responsible for assisting survivors in filling out the paperwork. It can be reached by calling (03) 568 2651. Ruth Eglash contributed to this report