Olmert inaugurates Holocaust survivors' help line

Advocacy groups: Move comes 56 years too late.

olmert gaza attack 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
olmert gaza attack 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
A new center and telephone help line aimed at providing Holocaust survivors with information about their social welfare rights and financial benefits was officially inaugurated on Thursday morning by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The initiative was approved by the cabinet more than a year ago. Despite what Olmert called the "first real attempt by an Israeli government to improve the living conditions of Holocaust survivors in the last 60 years," survivor advocacy groups greeted the center's creation with caution, saying only time will tell if it accomplishes its goals. An estimated third of the 250,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, with many forced to chose between food and medicine. "These people have suffered enough," Olmert said as he officially opened the center in Givatayim. "They went through hell and then came here to help build the State of Israel. It is only fitting that they receive the recognition that is owed to them." Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, whose office was instrumental in establishing the new center, and Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan joined the prime minister for the inauguration. According to the Prime Minister's Office, the creation of the center is the final stage in a series of steps taken by this government to improve the quality of life for survivors. Based on the recommendations of a committee headed by Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur and reports produced by Welfare and Social Services Minister director-general Nahum Itzkovich and the State Commission of Inquiry on Holocaust Survivors headed by retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, the new center will provide survivors and their families with information on exactly what type of benefits, compensation and assistance they are entitled to and how to receive them. In April 2008, the Knesset unanimously approved a law to pay benefits to an additional 8,000 Holocaust survivors, as well as provide other, non-financial benefits. However, partly due to bureaucracy and partly to a lack of correct information, many people have failed to take advantage of the new benefits. The new center, which can be reached by calling *9444, hopes to rectify that problem. While Noah Flug, director of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said at the inauguration that he whole heartedly welcomed the efforts of the government, several advocates for survivors' rights held back from offering their praise. "We are very skeptical of these new efforts," said Tamara Mor, founder of the Association for Immediate Help to Holocaust Survivors. "My feelings are based on our experiences of bureaucracy and discrepancies of who qualifies for the benefits and why." "To be honest, we feel that this center was created about 56 years too late. Such a center should have been opened immediately when Israel received its restitution money from Germany," she said. However, Mor said her association would refer survivors to the new service, while at the same time "keeping an eye to make sure it does provide the help it is promising." Natan Levon, director of pensioners' rights group Ken Lazaken, told The Jerusalem Post it was still too early to say whether it would "really work." "We will just have to wait and see if this will really help the people who need it," he said.