1 in 4 Holocaust Survivors in Israel Live in Poverty, State Does Little to Help
08:32 GMT 26.01.2022 (Updated: 08:42 GMT 26.01.2022)
Although 54,000 victims are getting an assistance package worth up to $2,000 per month, the vast majority are forced to live off a stipend of roughly $105, a drop in the ocean given Israel’s high living expenses.
On Thursday, the world will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in honour of the millions who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.
Ceremonies are expected in Germany, Poland, the United States and even the United Arab Emirates. In Israel, President Isaac Herzog will attend a special event at the national Yad Vashem museum, dedicated to the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Israel is home to some 175,000 Holocaust survivors. Their average age is 85. Shir Cohen, Director of the Aid for Life programme at Latet, an Israeli NGO that aims to provide assistance to those in need, says "a quarter of them live in poverty".
54,000 of Israel’s Holocaust survivors live off a state assistance package that ranges from $773 to almost $2,000 per month. A small minority get a stipend of up to $3,500. But the vast majority of them receive only $105, making it impossible for them to stay afloat. An average pension in Israel stands at $1,680. The minimum wage is approximately $1,710.
"Many Holocaust survivors came to Israel from the former USSR states. Many came without pensions or families, and because they didn't earn a pension here, they were not entitled to one, something that pushed them into poverty," explained Cohen.
Israel has long been aware of the dire economic situation of its many Holocaust survivors, and throughout the years there have been attempts to improve their conditions.
Holocaust survivors are entitled to psychological, social and legal assistance free of charge. They get discounts on water, electricity, phone and internet bills as well as subsidies for any medical aid they might require.
However, for many that is far from enough. In 2020, a State Comptroller report found many grievances regarding the way Israel was treating its Holocaust survivors. The monthly stipend they were given hasn't risen, despite the constantly rising prices in the country. The Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority hasn't conducted a proper survey that would unveil the needs of that population, and relevant government bodies have failed to work out a plan that would make the flats of those victims more accessible.
"This is exactly where Latet comes in," says Cohen. "We are giving those Holocaust survivors a holistic package to ease their lives."
As head of the Aid for Life programme, Cohen is responsible for providing those in need with monthly food provisions which are handpicked by a nutritionist, that include fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products.
They are also provided with eyeglasses, fans during the hot summers and blankets for winter. They provide them with dental assistance and repair their homes and make them more accessible.
20 January 2022, 16:05 GMT
Latet is only one of the organisations which render assistance to the victims of Nazi crimes. Israel currently boasts dozens of groups and NGOs that aim at assisting Holocaust survivors and improving their lives.
Just as in the case of Latet, the money for their projects come from Israeli and foreign donors as well as organisations that understand the difficult situation facing those Holocaust survivors and their continued suffering. However, that money, says Cohen, cannot reach every person who needs help.
"Right now, there are 1,350 Holocaust survivors who get constant assistance from Latet. There are hundreds of others, who get occasional aid, such as the provision of eyeglasses or home repair work. Our funds are limited."
This is why Cohen is calling on all relevant bodies to step up their efforts and help those victims, before it's too late.
"There is so much that can be done. We can increase their monthly stipends. We can reduce their rent and other bills and we can improve their living conditions. One shouldn't forget: these people are old and pretty soon only a few will remain. What will be left from them is just the memory."