A growing number of Israel's Holocaust survivors are seeking professional psychological counseling and support services, according to data released this week by Amcha, the national center for psychosocial support of survivors of the Holocaust and the second generation. Information released in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be marked here on Monday, puts at 6,826 the number of survivors who turned to the trauma counseling organization in 2006, a rise of 13 percent over the previous year.
Holocaust Day events
"I've met many Holocaust survivors over the years who have been able to live relatively normal lives without the need for psychological treatment but in recent years - as they grow older or experience life-changing events such as losing their spouse or becoming ill - they begin to need psychotherapy," Nathan Durst, a trained clinical psychologist and clinical director of Amcha, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
With the average age of Israel's estimated 250,000 Holocaust survivors falling somewhere between 80 and 90, Durst said the rise in the number of those seeking therapy last year was mainly caused by the aging process.
"As people get older, they begin to lose their short-term memory but their long-term memory is still strong, even if they do not suffer from Alzheimer's or senile dementia; the past for many Holocaust survivors never goes away," he said.
Durst also pointed out that despite the number of years that have passed since World War II, many survivors still mourn the family members - mother, father, siblings or children - they lost during Holocaust.
"The majority of survivors came back from the war alone," explained Durst, who escaped Germany as a child in 1939 and was hidden by a gentile family in Holland for the majority of the war. "Even though they might have married, had children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren or led successful professional lives, the feeling of loneliness is always there."
While Israel's Holocaust survivors attempt to come to terms with their losses and their experiences, recent studies have noted that a growing number of them - roughly one-third - are also struggling economically.
The most recent report on the subject, a 2005 survey conducted by the Fund for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, found that more than 40% of Israel's survivors live below the poverty line.
"The fact that so many of the survivors are so poor and have to chose on a daily basis between food or medicine is totally unacceptable," commented Durst. "The Israeli government really needs to start dealing with the problem." And even though the Knesset approved a new law in January, granting additional reparations to Holocaust survivors here, Durst remains cynical about the situation.
"It is easy for society to forget about Holocaust survivors; they are quiet and do not make noise like other needy groups in Israel, but sadly the Holocaust is a part of Jewish history and of Israeli history. It cannot be separated," he said.