Holocaust Remembrance Day can trigger anxiety, loneliness

Although their numbers are dwindling, Holocaust survivors are still affected by how they suffered and what they lost, but help is a call away.

Holocaust survivors 311 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Holocaust survivors 311
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Although Holocaust survivors are dying at a rate of over 1,000 a month, there still remain many elderly people who remember daily how they suffered and what they lost during the Nazi era some seven decades ago.
Many of them contact the hotline of ERAN (Emotional First Aid) at 1201, where psychologists and other volunteers answer calls made anonymously.
“There is a surge in calls from the elderly, the lion’s share of them Holocaust survivors, from Pessah through Holocaust Remembrance Day,” said ERAN spokeswoman Dorit Eldenberg. “Members of the second and third generation call as well."
“The media’s series of articles and reports on the special memorial day often triggers many calls, as does the family-based holiday itself, in which survivors whose loved ones were murdered in the Holocaust remember how they spent Pessah many decades ago,” Eldenberg said.
About 15,000 of ERAN’s calls during the year come from the elderly, she said.
“We prepare for this before Holocaust Day. Our course for volunteers also includes a special session on helping the elderly and especially Holocaust survivors. Some just want to talk, while others have specific problems such as medical difficulties or loneliness.”
Some people, burdened with health problems and being alone, talk of suicide, while others just want to register relatives who perished in the Holocaust in the Yad Vashem register of the Six Million.
ERAN, the country’s only emotional first aid service, operates its confidential 24- hour hotline, seven days a week, 365 days a year and relies on donations. People can also contact ERAN through its website at www.eran.org.il.
Meanwhile, the Yad Sarah organization (yadsarah.org) reminds survivors that special services are available to help them. The voluntary organization with over 100 branches around the country lends out emergency beepers (for a deposit of NIS 150) as a gift of the Memorial Fund for Holocaust Survivors in France. Lonely survivors can call for help and conversation from any part of their homes.
Click for Jpost special featuresClick for Jpost special features
A watch-like device worn on the wrist automatically dials Yad Sarah when the wearer presses a button on it. Volunteers see the name, address, personal details on their health, spoken languages, number of relatives and neighbors and other relevant information on the screen when the call comes in. Almost 19,000 elderly and isolated individuals, including many survivors, wear such transmission devices, and they operate at no charge.
A Yad Sarah dental clinic for the elderly operates at the organization’s Jerusalem headquarters in coordination with the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine. All the dentists who work there are volunteers, and dental treatments are highly subsidized, with charges covering materials. No other organization gives such treatments to Holocaust survivors, many of whom can’t pay for dental care they need, the organization says.
Other special services to Holocaust survivors include free legal advice (in cooperation with the Yad Riba organization) and the production of life stories for them to present to their descendants. This project is made possible solely on the basis of donations.
Eliezer Ayalon, who was born in Poland the year that World War II began, spent five years in concentration camps before he was freed by the US forces, when he weighed only 38 kilos. He is one of the survivors who for 37 years spoke little about his horrible experiences to his family.
But more recently, when he volunteered at Yad Vashem three or four times a week and came into contact with Yad Sarah services, especially the dental clinic for the elderly, he almost hasn’t stopped talking about what he went through.
“It has made me 20 years younger,” said Ayalon, who is now an octogenarian.
Now in good dental health, he says he feels “joy of life and new energy. I have a mission and a family, and thanks to Yad Sarah, it will be easier for me to continue,” he said smiling.