Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Survivors of the Shoah are still here!

That was the motto for the demonstration in front of the Knesset, yesterday on the Yom Hashoa, the remembrance day for the victims of the holocaust.

On Yom HaShoa everybody is supposed to be in grief, so the television channels only air pause pictures, except for those channels that show the official commemoration ceremony or as was the case this year for the first time, a documentary of the situation of many of the holocaust survivors in Israel.
Zeev Factor, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, says that 80.000 Shoah-survivors out of the 250.000 living in Israel live in poverty and many of them are hungry on a regular base. Every year some 10.000 of these people die.
When Germany and Ben Gurion signed the Luxemburg Agreements for restitution, Germany gave an amount of money and goods to Israel, being the heir of the victims of the Shoah. Ben Gurion invested the money in Israel’s industry, which also led to Israel’s economical boom.
Germany also allocated an amount of money to be distributed among those who survived the Shoah. These funds are handled by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (“claims conference”).
The Claims conference today compensates survivors with 1700 NIS a month. Germany also gives a direct compensation to those survivors, who came to Israel before 1953.
Those who came afterwards however, the majority, needs to live on the allocations from the claims conference and on the national retirement allowance by the state of Israel. But the mentioned survivors come from the sovjet union after the 1990. They have not worked in Israel and are thus not eligible to receive any retirement allowance. Many survivors are unable to make themselves a living with the sparce support. Many have lost their family and thus the family support in the holocaust. Malnutrition and exhaustion in the camps makes them more vulnerable to illnesses today and they need on average more money for the medicine.
The state of Israel has the responsibility to make sure that the survivors receive at least 3000 NIS a month, but this is not followed up and not often granted. The Israeli government in February allocated and amount of 11 Million NIS as an emergency aid to the survivors, but boiled down, that equals 137 NIS a person. Also the government opened saving accounts in different Israeli banks, all of which deny that this is an emergency, where funds need to be released.
There is an emergency fond allocation of around $300 Million (1.2 Billion NIS) with the Claims Conference, but they don’t consider the situation an emergency. The claims conference came into public focus last year, when it was revealed that the Executive Director, Gideon Taylor, had an annual salary of more then $400.000, which is more then the allocation for 100 survivors.
The question of who needs to take care of the survivors is difficult. Israel surely has an moral obligation to make sure that all the basic needs for the survivors are met. Also the claims conference needs to allocate funds. But if this does not happen soon, then there is no reason to do it at all. If I would by cynical I would say that the problem solves itself in 5-10 years from now.

But so I went to the demonstration in front of the Knesset, which students from the Hebrew University, the Israeli Pensionist Party and Meeretz Party had organized. Around a thousand youngsters showed up. Most of them 17-18 years old, schoolchildren and boyscouts. Maybe 20 survivors also managed to come. The demonstration was over after 3 hours and I was sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine, when a girl, who also was at the demonstration, asked me: “Sorry, do you actually know where the Knesset-building ist?”. I shook my head in resignation and pointed at the building behind me. If these kids are all the support that stands up for the Dignity of the Shoah-Survivors, then they are surely forgotten.
During the last few years, the survivors have started going back to Germany. In Germany they have an reasonable pension of around 6000 NIS and free Medicare. It can’t be more ironical and has a strong symbolical meaning, that they are going back to Germany, in order to live a better life, before they die.

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Blogger schmondt said...

this is not only a well-crafted piece of writing but also an excellent account of the situation. you should think about publishing/posting this in places with more traffic than this blog is able to attract. everything else would be a waste...



1:13 AM  
Anonymous Lothar Evers said...

Thanks for covering that event. And to remind us and the world of the dramatic conditions many Shoah survivors have to live in.

I have quotet Zeev Factors and your impressions in my blog "Triumph and Disaster..." here in Germany:
"Germany should guarantee a dignified living for all survivors of Shoah and Concentration Camps. It is a shame to force them out of their home country just to be eligible vor these payments."


8:38 AM  

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