'We remember those who died, but lose direction in remembering the survivors.'
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
On a day reserved for remembering those who perished in concentration camps 60 years ago, activists and politicians bemoaned the poverty which those who survived the Holocaust find themselves in today.
"Today we are all busy remembering the people who died in the Holocaust, which is very important," said Ze'ev Feiner, spokesman for the Holocaust Survivor's Welfare Fund. "But when it comes to remembering the survivors [we] are losing direction."
According to Feiner's organization, 90,000 of the 280,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line. The NIS 1,000 to NIS 2,000 they receive each month from the government and German reparations wasn't enough to meet the basic needs of this aging population, he said.
He described the years 2005-2009 as the "peak of the needs" of Holocaust survivors because the bulk of them would then be in their eighties. Any population of that age requires serious expenditures in medicine, nursing and the like, but Feiner pointed out that the Holocaust survivors have even more needs than the average elderly person because of the emotional distress they experienced.
Holocaust survivors often can't afford medicine, dental work, eye glasses, even meat and other basic necessities.
A worker at Amcha, a non-profit organization providing psychological and social services to victims of the Holocaust, said that it receives scores of phone calls from survivors whose mental health has been adversely affected by their lack of material well-being.
The government has upped its contribution to the Welfare Fund recently, allocating NIS 5 million more in 2006 than the NIS 2m. given in 2005.
But Feiner said that only a small percentage of the NIS 14m. budgeted for this year had arrived, despite promises that half the money would be disbursed before Pessah.
"These are people who feel the State of Israel was founded on their blood and they deserve [at least] the minimum to end their lives in dignity," Feiner said.
New Kadima MK Menahem Ben-Sasson called the survivors' situation "shocking" and pledged to raise the issue at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting tomorrow.
He said that he was encouraged, however, by the concern expressed by students who met with him Tuesday to protest the plight of the impoverished population. Ben-Sasson is a former rector of the Hebrew University and heads Yad Vashem's pedagogical committee.
"It is our mission to respect and nourish and [fulfill] the needs of the needy [survivors]. They deserve it," Ben-Sasson said.
He stressed the importance of occasions like Holocaust Remembrance Day. "We need days like this to remember our obligations."
Feiner charged that Israel had been more conscientious in reminding other countries of their obligations to Holocaust survivors than in fulfilling its own duties.
"It has to set an example. It can't demand from other countries something which the State of Israel doesn't do," he said.
By the Welfare Fund's tally, 46,000 survivors meet the state definition of those in need of assistance in order to function. The fund has helped 96,500 to date, and spent NIS 170m. in 2005. The vast majority of the funding came from restitution lawsuits brought in the United States, with only 4 percent contributed by the government. The fund estimates that NIS 200m. will be spent in 2006.
"If we don't help them today, we won't be able to help them tomorrow," Feiner said.
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