Holocaust images

Leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day, the media focuses on severe poverty of many survivors.

Train to Auschwitz 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Train to Auschwitz 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This year, as in previous years ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the media have focused heavily on the severe poverty and substandard living conditions of many Holocaust survivors.
Newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet have featured profiles of Holocaust survivors living in rundown flats that lack basic utilities.
Survivors who were on the receiving end of the lethal hatred that swept across Europe are disappearing, and many of those who remain are in desperate need of aid. Over the past year alone, about 12,000 Holocaust survivors have passed away – more than one every hour – according to data published this week by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel based on a survey carried out by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee-affiliated Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. If in 1961, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the 500,000 survivors living here made up about 25 percent of the population, today there are just 198,000, about 2.5% of the population.
Probably the most infuriating pieces of data from that same Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute report – based on a survey of 52,500 survivors supported by the foundation – is that 5% complained they did not have enough to eat. In Israel of all places, it is essential that everything be done to ensure that no Holocaust survivor goes hungry or is left without proper medical care.
However, the annual publicity campaigns that sweep the nation at this time of year with the implicit message that not enough is being done for Holocaust survivors – and that the State of Israel is to blame – project a distorted picture of reality. Over the past year the government has increased the amount of annual aid to Holocaust survivors by NIS 6 million to NIS 206m. In addition, the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany and various charities also contribute to the welfare of the survivors.
One cannot help but wonder whether these campaigns are motivated by the desire on the part of various charity organizations to exploit Holocaust Remembrance Day as an opportunity to fund-raise not just for the survivors but also to perpetuate expensive administrative infrastructures that employ hundreds.
Allegations of fraud at Hazon Yeshaya, a charity that claimed to feed Holocaust survivors, have probably not made it any easier to raise money.
Campaigns that focus on the poverty of survivors also create an image of them as charity cases, when, in reality, many of those who lived through the hell of the Shoah somehow found the strength to put all that behind them and embark on the daunting challenges that faced the fledgling Jewish state – fighting our many enemies, absorbing immigration and creating a society made up primarily of refugees and immigrants.
As Holocaust scholar Hanna Yablonka has pointed out, the vast majority of survivors who came to Israel focused on rebuilding their lives and building the new Jewish state – and they were wildly successful, worthy of being called heroes.
“Most survivors found a core of inner strength that is hard for us to comprehend,” noted Yablonka.
“Their collective story is one of personal and human victory.”
Holocaust survivors have left their mark in every field from building and construction to the IDF, industry, law and culture. They became prominent painters, graphic artists, poets, writers, dancers, actors, academics and cultural icons.
Indeed, it is impossible to imagine the State of Israel today without their many contributions.
It is essential that we do everything in our power to ensure that needy survivors’ live their last years on earth without want and in dignity. But we must not allow the image of the survivor as a charity case to dominate public discourse.
As the number of the survivors dwindles, there is another story to tell, a heroic one of overcoming the horrors of their past and the adversity of their current situation, providing an inspiration to us all.