Rally for living Holocaust survivors while we still can

Let us all make sure that we will be active on this Yom Hashoah, otherwise not only will the younger generation not forgive us, we will not forgive ourselves.

Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz 370
(photo credit: reuters)
Hanna was seven years old during World War II and almost starved to death in the streets of the Warsaw ghetto. Today, she is 79.
Although she lives in the Jewish state and is no longer the victim of anti-Semitic persecution, Hanna is still wandering around hungry in the streets of Jaffa.
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we all remember the atrocities committed in Europe by the Nazis and their collaborators. Every year, on the 27 of Nissan (April 19 this year), we observe a minute of silence and refrain from going clubbing or indulging in nice meals at restaurants. Rather, most of us spend the evening at home watching Schindler’s List, thinking about the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
In fact, we think about it all year long; when we send our children on trips to Poland or when we, along with every diplomat visiting Israel, pay a visit to Yad Vashem. We strive to educate the new generation about this tragic time in history, and are all adamant to make sure that the dead will not be forgotten. But are we so obsessed about these 6 million dead Jews that we forget about the living ones? When we see an old man with that tattoo on his arm, we automatically think about the terrible ordeals that he must have endured in the 1940s.
Do most of us ever think that this man could be enduring a terrible ordeal in the present? No, we do not, wrongly so. Out of the 250,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, more than a quarter live below the poverty line. This means that many of the people who survived the Nazis’ atrocities and sought shelter in Israel do not have enough money to afford basic living costs such as a home, food, medical treatment and clothes. Above all, this means that Jews who were hungry in the ghettos and in the death camps 70 years ago are still hungry today, in the Jewish state.
How did we get to this terrifying reality? Having immigrated to Israel under a reign of terror, the vast majority of Holocaust survivors arrived destitute, without the financial resources to give them a secure start. This disadvantage has continued to plague them throughout their lives and many have reached old age without the savings necessary to ensure that they can live their last years in comfort.
Although many survivors receive monthly payments from Holocaust compensation programs and/or the Israeli government, as they have aged and begun to experience increased health problems, many of them have found that these payments are not sufficient to cover their most basic needs. Indeed, Holocaust survivors in Israel are twice as likely to experience chronic illnesses as other people their age and nearly half report trouble sleeping.
Furthermore, a significant proportion require regular medication for trauma-related mental health disorders. Increasingly, the bills for necessary medical care are swallowing their small income, leaving them unable to pay for basic living costs.
Furthermore, one of the consequences of old age is the loss of close relatives. Sadly, in the case of Holocaust survivors, this situation is further compounded by the fact that many lost their families in the Shoah and were unable to build new ones in Israel. As such, over 40 percent of survivors in Israel are single and about a quarter live alone.
Without a support network to look after them, many Holocaust survivors are living on the periphery of society with no-one to ensure that their basic needs are met.
In addition, one must realize that these people need to make great efforts to be recognized as Holocaust survivors by the State of Israel and receive compensation. A significant number of legitimate victims of the Shoah do not have the mental or physical strength to face these bureaucratic difficulties and receive compensation, and are in great need of financial support consequently.
As Chairman of the Foundation for Holocaust Victims Elazar Stern said, “The needs of needy Holocaust survivors will continue to grow... The younger generation will not forgive us if we do not deal respectfully with the older generation.”
Holocaust survivors will soon disappear. In addition to our grief and remembrance of the Shoah as a historical tragedy that must never be forgotten, let us not forget the living victims of the Holocaust and let us all rally to help them. Whether this help translates into donations or volunteer work, let us all remember the dead and the living victims of the Shoah and take action. We can only do so for a few more years, so let us all make sure that we will be active on this Yom Hashoah, otherwise not only will the younger generation not forgive us, we will not forgive ourselves.
The writer is a grant coordinator at The Jaffa Institute, a private non-profit organization that provides food parcels to Holocaust survivors in the south Tel Aviv area. In the Jaffa Institute’s service area there are approximately 15,000 Holocaust survivors, among which 4,000 are living in poverty. For more information, please contact [email protected]