'80,000 survivors live in dire poverty'

An open letter to the prime minister, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

colette avital 88 (photo credit: )
colette avital 88
(photo credit: )
At 10 this morning, when the sirens ring once more, time will stop and an entire nation will hold its breath. Mr. Prime Minister, you, and each one of us, will close our eyes and shudder, remembering the six million - systematically tortured, humiliated and then cruelly annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators. Everything has been said already, but you, Mr. Prime Minister, will say it again: In a solemn voice you will remind us all that the Jewish state was created, out of their ashes, so as never to allow a Holocaust again. You will speak and we will listen, and many of us will wipe a tear and go on with our lives. Not so those who have come back from that "other planet," those who survived the horrors of the camps and the ghettos. Their traumas and memories have deeply scarred their souls and - together with the numbers etched into their arms - they are imbedded in their flesh. Among the 250,000 survivors still alive, 80,000 live in dire poverty. Many of them are alone, childless, and in their old age, they are compelled to beg for assistance. The monthly compensation paid to some by the Finance Ministry - around NIS 1,040 per month - does not suffice to make ends meet. Those fortunate enough to receive this meager sum must decide whether to buy food or get the medicine necessary for their survival. But then there are others, those who could not reach our shores before 1953, because they were behind the Iron Curtain. They are excluded from the law's coverage. Therefore, they are not entitled to get German compensation through the State of Israel. This and many other factors explain why some of these good people, our heroes, live in such conditions. It may explain, but it cannot justify this cruelty, nor eradicate our shame. Mr. Prime Minister, I turn to you: As the head of our government, the government of the Jewish state, you cannot tolerate this situation. Too often have we been told by "dutiful" civil servants that we are not "guilty" for the tragedy that has befallen our people. Indeed, we may not be guilty. But we are responsible. We accepted this responsibility under the terms of the Reparations Agreement with the German government. And more: We have accepted this moral obligation as a Jewish state. Another thing: Time is of essence, Mr. Prime Minister. We have no time left. Many of the survivors may not be with us in a few years. This country, our nation, owes them much: our existence, our knowledge and determination to survive. It is our duty to act now, to approve pending legislation in the Knesset, to allow more generosity, more humanity and less bureaucracy in dealing with their problems. This duty is incumbent on you and on the entire government, before it is too late. The writer is an MK for the Labor Party and heads the Holocaust Survivors' Lobby in the Knesset.