Gov't to expand services for Holocaust survivors

New welfare services announced at special cabinet meeting dedicated to Holocaust – ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Netanyahu cabinet meeting 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu cabinet meeting 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The government on Tuesday announced plans to increase the basket of services aimed at improving the daily lives of thousands of aging Holocaust survivors in Israel.
Announced at a special cabinet meeting dedicated to the Holocaust – ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday – the additions will include an upgrade in the annual budget for services to NIS 225 million for 2012. Also, some 8,500 survivors will receive an additional NIS 580 a month on top of a special monthly pension of between NIS 700 and NIS 2,000.
“Today’s decision adds to the many actions we have taken in recent years on behalf of Holocaust survivors,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who recommended the increases along with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Deputy Pensioners Affairs Minister Leah Ness and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni.
“Time is urgent and the survivors are, to our sorrow, leaving our world,” Netanyahu added. “We want to remember those who perished, the 6 million brothers and sisters, and heed the lessons of the Holocaust in order to ensure the future of our people.”
According to Ness, approximately 200,000 survivors reside in Israel and roughly 70,000 of them were incarcerated in concentration camps and ghettos during the war.
“Until recently, many of them had not even tried to utilize their rights,” Ness said, adding that in recent years her ministry has been successful in reaching more than 120,000 survivors and providing them with welfare assistance.
Steinitz said that the budget for the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, headed by Ofra Ross, currently stands at NIS 2.9 billion, as opposed to NIS 1.5 billion in 2005, and added that the Authority assists almost 90,000 Holocaust survivors, as opposed to approximately 51,000 in 2005.
Despite the government’s steps to increase financial aid and improve the lives of thousands of survivors, many are still unaware of their rights and some are ineligible for any assistance. Today, an estimated one third of Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line.
Despite the government’s announcement on Tuesday, Hebrew news website Ynet reported that the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets had cut back on the monthly stipends to more than 10,000 survivors.
The company – created in 2007 to locate assets that once belonged to Jewish families – explained that its budget to help survivors is based on property unclaimed by its original owners. “We have no choice but to reduce a little assistance this year, because these are the funds available to us,” the company stated.
According to figures released earlier this week by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, there are roughly 198,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, with the majority, 88 percent, over the age of 75. Nearly 20,000 of the survivors require full-time care and assistance in their dayto- day lives.
A report published by an institution affiliated with the American-Jewish Joint Distribution last year said that by 2015 the number of survivors will decrease by more than 30% to 145,000.
The foundation and other organizations working with survivors emphasize that despite the falling numbers, the needs of the remaining survivors only increase.
Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister stood with Steinitz, Ness, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and MK Yossi Peled to listen to the personal stories of Holocaust survivors at a hostel for the elderly.
Following the visit, Netanyahu highlighted the importance of assisting survivors alive in order to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust.
“Today’s activity reflects the power of life, which is also based on the power of memory,” Netanyahu said. “If you are alive, you remember and in order for us to continue to live, we must remember.”