SEATTLE, Washington — Approximately 75 years ago, one of the worst travesties in human history occurred: the Holocaust. Six million Jewish individuals were tortured and murdered along with countless others from different backgrounds, such as Slavic peoples and Soviet prisoners. The last few years have been painful for Holocaust survivors due to the increase of antisemitism and Holocaust deniers around the globe, in addition to the recent spread of COVID-19. To provide aid to Holocaust survivors during this difficult pandemic, Germany has approved a monumental decision in October of 2020 to distribute more than half a million euros to the 240,000 surviving Holocaust victims worldwide.
Effect of COVID-19 on Holocaust Survivors
COVID-19 has affected people and areas differently across the world; however, it has had a unique backlash effect on holocaust survivors. This is mainly due to all survivors of the holocaust now being in elderly age groups and having pre-existing medical conditions from malnourishment while in concentration camps. Many countries have implemented strict quarantine measures, which have inadvertently brought back traumatic memories for those that escaped the Holocaust. Survivors are haunted by the memories of being forced to hide and avoid the outside world in fear of being arrested by Nazi soldiers. An unexpected possibility of starvation has increased these fears because elderly survivors are scared of leaving the house for food and necessities due to COVID-19.
In the U.S., poor technology know-how has become a major setback for the elderly’s daily routines. Many survivors have case managers and social workers who interact with them regularly, but they must now do so virtually. To combat this, numerous agencies and outreach programs have started to mail out care packages. They also conduct daily check-in phone calls to the elderly aimed to help alleviate stress and anxiety.
A recent article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency details that the trauma from the past has been so paralyzing that some have declined in-home visits in fear of being near anyone outside of their home. Shelley Wernick is a director at the Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. She pointed out that although there are obstacles to overcome, many survivors are showing optimism amid the pandemic. She states, “They tell us we will be forever changed but that we will persevere. They are still our teachers. They know what it means to have love and humanity in the face of adversity. ”
Germany’s Response to the Issue
Survivors’ struggle amid the pandemic has come to the attention of the German government and the organization Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The Claims Conference and Germany have formed a joint partnership to find individuals qualified for aid from overlooked areas where survivors live. Over a planned two-year period, survivors will receive a total of 564 million euros ($662 million). This is in addition to a recently approved $36 million increase in funding to the country’s welfare program for current survivors. This aid is intended for Jewish survivors who were German residents but fled to another country for sanctuary.
COVID-19 has forced people to be more cautious with purchases. Many elderly Holocaust survivors are already struggling financially, but COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult to afford the costs of needed supplies and groceries. The additional funding will provide disadvantaged families with essential supplies and financial security.
Surviving the Holocaust is challenging enough, but to live in such fear twice in one lifetime is indescribable. This is why the German government has stepped in to help by providing essential aid to Holocaust survivors. The victims of this genocide deserve community outreach and aid now more than ever amid the pandemic. Furthermore, there are invaluable lessons and wisdom that the remaining survivors can teach the world, including how to move forward from this unprecedented crisis as a global community.
– Brandon Baham