Gov't improves financial situation of Holocaust survivors

Thousands, particularly those from the former Soviet Union, are still not eligible for assistance.

Holocaust survivors 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Holocaust survivors 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The living conditions of thousands of Holocaust survivors in Israel has been improving over the past two years thanks to several government initiatives aimed at reducing poverty among this segment of the population, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
However, organizations working with the 210,000 survivors in Israel told the Post on Monday that those from the former Soviet Union – who consider themselves victims of the war and who immigrated to Israel in the last 20 years – are still struggling financially despite government efforts. Many of them live below the poverty line and rely on food aid agencies for their basic needs.
“The financial situation for those who arrived here in the last 20 years is very bad because they came at an advanced age, were not able to work, have no additional survivor benefits and are not recognized officially [as survivors] by the government,” explained Noah Flug, director of the Central of Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.
According to Flug, who is also president of the International Auschwitz Committee, many of the FSU survivors receive National Insurance Institute-issued income support of up to 50 percent because of their exceptionally low pensions, compared to survivors from Germany who typically receive only a 1% income supplement and Poland, whose survivors receive 1.5%.
He estimated that roughly 140,000 of the survivors living here immigrated from the FSU, although most were originally from Europe and fled their homes before the arrival of the German army during World War II.
In Israel, they are termed the “second wave” of survivors, distinguished from the 70,000 “first wave” survivors who lived directly under Nazi occupation during the war, explained Flug.
First wave survivors are officially recognized as Holocaust victims by the Israeli government and receive benefits beyond their state pensions.
“After two years of more intense discussions it has finally been agreed upon that everyone who lived under Nazi occupation should be allowed to receive benefits from the government,” continued Flug, adding that they run between NIS 1,600 and NIS 1,800 a month on top of the standard state pension.
“In general, the financial situation of those from the first wave of survivors is better than others, because most people get a pension from one of the governments in Europe,” he said, but added, “their situation is still tough, because the older you are the more medical support a person needs.”
Last April, an agreement reached between the ministries of Health, Welfare and Social Services and Finance paved the way for a NIS 50 million a year benefits package to provide some 80,000 survivors with up to a 90 percent subsidy on essential health and medical supplies.
This followed steps taken a year earlier to increase payments to an additional 8,000 Holocaust survivors, as well as other non-financial benefits.
In February 2009, a new information center was launched (*9444) to assist survivors in navigating the complicated bureaucracy and help people to claim any missing or additional benefits.
Ido Benjamin, adviser to Welfare and Social Services Ministry director-general Nachum Itzkovich, told the Post that many of these government initiatives were finally producing results.
“Last week the Finance Ministry approved a group of 5,000 Libyan Jews to receive a ‘survivors’ pension,” Benjamin said. “Slowly, slowly they are widening the group of those who are being recognized for assistance.”
He estimated that since 2008, some 2,500 survivors had jointed the “first wave” of survivors to receive additional government benefits.
While these benefits, together with the medical subsidies and a specially allocated budget of NIS 200m.
for programs for survivors, are all contributing to improved conditions, some insist that these steps are too little, too late, and are merely an attempt by the government to address survivors’ needs that it had ignored in the past.
Whatever the reason for the increase in government allocations to survivors – even as their numbers continue to diminish – organizations working with them are cautiously admitting that the situation is better than it was several years ago.
“There certainly have been improvements,” commented Natan Levon, director of the pensioner’s rights group Ken Lazaken.
Referring specifically to the government’s attempts to reach survivors who have not yet claimed their additional benefits, he said: “Even though the forms are now much simpler, people can still be waiting as long as a year before they see the money. The bureaucracy is still a very lengthy process.”
However, Levon added, while they are still faced with huge bureaucracy and there are still many people who are not recognized by the government as Holocaust survivors, “there are definitely less survivors living below the poverty line than before.”