There are approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel - 120,000 of whom are registered. Most of the survivors are elderly and successive Israeli governments, especially the current government of Ehud Olmert, have ignored their plight. The suffering of these elderly survivors of Hitler’s hell has finally come to the surface and has made the issue worthy of public debate.
Many are living in abject poverty without proper medical and nutritional support. Now, as a result of sharp criticism for repeated promises that have gone unfulfilled, the Olmert government is finally facing the need to address the problem. While governments dally, thousands die. The living deserves compassionate and compensation rather than handouts which are often too little, too late.
The Olmert government decided that in 2008 it will raise the allocation to those Holocaust survivors who are 70 years old to 90 Israeli Shekels ($21) a month, and those over 80 will receive 150 Shekels ($36) a month. Allocations, according to the recent decision, will rise gradually each year and in 2011 a survivor will receive a sum somewhere between 220 to 325 shekels ($52-$76) a month.
The government’s decision came as a result of recommendations by an Intra-Ministerial committee put together by Isaac Herzog, Minister of Welfare and Social Services. Total allocations for 2008 are estimated to be 120 million Shekels; 240 Million Shekel in 2009, and by 2011 the annual allocation will be set at 300 million Shekels.
Chairman of The Foundation for the Welfare of Holocaust Victims, Zeev Factor, himself a survivor, warned Prime Minister Olmert in a letter sent to him two weeks ago, not to delay further aid to the survivors. He stated: “Our struggle is on behalf of the Holocaust survivors, but it is also about the nature of our society and state.” His co-chairman, Dov Arbel added, “The Prime Minister may think that there is time – but there is none. If we do not act now, we won’t be able to change.” Clearly, every passing year reduces the number of survivors.
The Foundation initiated a campaign that describes the suffering of the Holocaust victims in Israel who live in poverty. It personalizes their ordeals during the Holocaust and their current situation - living with illness and handicaps and the insufficient help they are receiving from the government. Alongside the personal stories, age and condition of the each of the survivors, there appears a picture of PM Olmert with the question “Would you let your mother and father live like that?”
The Foundation chairs reacted sharply to Olmert’s allegedly “raising of allocations” for Holocaust victims. “The Prime Minister spoke of an addition of millions of shekels, and overnight the hundreds of millions evaporated into 130 million that will only be available in 2008. For the survivors it is almost meaningless, when considering the fact that the allocation needs to significantly fund food for survivors who go hungry, fund medicines for those who suffer from serious illnesses and, help keep them cool during the hot days and warm in the cold of winter.”
Former Minister and Founder of the Shinui party, Tommy Lapid, also a survivor from the Nazi Holocaust, and chairman of Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad V’Shem, said: “It is an ongoing crime that began with the reparations from Germany 50 years ago, when the Israeli Labor (MAPAI) government received more than it in actuality distributed to the survivors and thus created a difficult situation for them.” He added, “During the direct allocations of reparation money - those who received it, sustained a reduction in their social welfare coverage.” Lapid demanded that PM Olmert end this shameful situation.
Many Holocaust survivors who came to Israel after the war were invalids. Some had endured experimentation by Nazi doctors. Many men and women were sterilized, others had limbs that were detached and most suffered emotional and psychological damage in addition to physical pain. Thousands arrived in Israel alone – without their brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins or friends from their towns - all of whom were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Many never married others were unable to have children. In their old age, the government abandoned them. They became a statistic, living on a National Insurance allocation and small pensions they received from Germany. Their health, damaged in their youth, further deteriorated with time, and their medical needs increased. The government never fully addressed their medical and mental problems, reduced their coverage, and limited drug subsidies for their many ailments, subjecting many of the survivors to severe poverty.
The governments of Israel paid “lip-service” to the Holocaust survivors. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, agreed to accept the German reparation money (as if the German money could ever compensate for the cruelest campaign of genocide in history waged against the Jews of Europe) that was ostensibly given to rehabilitate the surviving victims (Menachem Begin, later the Prime Minister of Israel, and his Herut/Freedom Party, refused to receive ‘Blood money’ and protested for weeks against the Reparation Agreement with Germany) of the Holocaust, was used by Ben Gurion to “build up the country” - at the expense of the survivors.
The Holocaust survivors were not asked if they wanted the money owed to them to be used for meeting national needs, albeit most of them would have been pleased to see it go for building up Israel. The Israeli government never published the amounts it received against the amounts it distributed to the Nazi victims. It is apparent however that only a small portion went to the survivors.
Given Olmert’s record in dealing with the uprooted Jewish families from Gush Katif/Gaza who were expelled from their homes in 2005 and still find themselves living in temporary housing, his promises to the Holocaust survivors for 2007 allocations do not look promising. Moreover, Olmert did not even bring the subject to a cabinet meeting. During the observance of Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year, Olmert declared: “It is our obligation to make sure that whoever endured the horrors of the Holocaust will end their lives in Israel with dignity.” Prime Minister Olmert and his government are making a mockery of the Holocaust survivors, as he did of the 9000 Jews of Gush Katif.