LOS ANGELES, California — Chasdei Naomi, an Israel-based organization working to assist Holocaust survivors living in Israel, tells the story of Yevgenia Segal, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor who resides in Israel. Segal, at her advanced age, faces a harsh day-to-day reality even today. After the Nazis murdered her father, she faced poverty and starvation in the years following the Holocaust, and yet, her suffering is still not over. Every day, Segal goes out to work even at her advanced age because she is afraid that otherwise, one day, she “will have no way to survive.”
Unfortunately, Segal’s story is not unique. In fact, in 2014, a survey by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel showed that “[one]in [five]Holocaust survivors had to choose between food and other necessities over the past two years” because they could not afford both. Poverty among Holocaust survivors in Israel is widespread and people often do not discuss it.
Poverty Among Holocaust Survivors in Israel
In 1948, after the Holocaust had ended, Israel was created as a sanctuary for Jews. Today, an estimated 165,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, PBS NewsHour reported. According to a Holocaust survivors’ support group, one in three of the 165,000 survivors live below the poverty line. This implies that roughly 50,000 Holocaust survivors struggle to meet their basic needs within Israel alone.
Despite the economic setbacks that Holocaust survivors have faced, including the loss of all their family’s assets and their livelihoods, today, government support has limits and complications. Currently, slightly more than 50,000 survivors receive between $800 and $2,000 monthly from the Israeli government. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said in a 2020 report that “between 2018 and 2019, the Welfare Ministry only disbursed 30% of the NIS 30 million ($8.8 million) set aside for survivors eligible to receive income assistance.”
Because survivors living in Israel today originated from all over the globe, conflicting policies make it difficult for survivors to claim compensation. Romanian Jews, for example, are only automatically eligible for compensation from Israel if they “were deported to camps or ghettos during the war.” Others must justify their cases.
Additionally, for years, a law tied to a fund allocated by Germany prevented survivors who arrived in Israel after 1953 from receiving financial support.
Aside from the inability to access these funds, the number of Holocaust survivors who need financial support “to live with dignity” is continuously rising. Between 2017 and 2020, the number increased by 3%, according to the 2020 State Comptroller report. One can, for one, attribute this to the rising costs of living in Israel.
Nations’ Past Efforts
Amid the growing need in Israel, other nations like Germany and Romania have taken on the responsibility of supporting Holocaust survivors. In the 1950s, Germany began “reparations payments to Holocaust survivors,” an act that continues today. Many Holocaust survivors and authorities were hostile to accepting reparations from Germany.
However, in 1951, the Claims Conference, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations, negotiated financial compensation for Holocaust survivors with the German government. Germany vouched to compensate any victims of the Holocaust and former forced laborers for the following 20 years. By October 2020, Germany had roughly dedicated more than $91.9 billion to these reparations.
In 1988, Germany agreed to provide Holocaust survivors with “$290 a month for the rest of their lives.” In 2020 the German government renewed its efforts to make amends by committing a further $662 million to “Holocaust survivors struggling because of the pandemic, persecution and their age.”
In 2022, Romania officially recognized Israeli documentation allowing for Romanian Holocaust survivors residing in Israel to receive pensions from Romania’s social services. This will grant roughly 15,000 Holocaust survivors access to pensions as compensation for their history of persecution by Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany at the time.
Though survivors receive government stipends, many still depend on donations organized by Israeli charities like Latet. Latet acts as an umbrella organization for 180 local NGOs in Israel, making it the largest NGO fighting poverty in Israel. Although its work extends beyond Holocaust survivors, the NGO provides monthly assistance to 1,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. The organization relies on donations from the Israeli public and the endless volunteer hours of its 27,000 volunteers. In 2017, Latet managed to distribute $30 million worth of food to impoverished Israeli people.
Similarly, Chasdei Naomi, founded in 1984 by Yosef Cohen, supports more than 10,000 Israeli families with donations. Cohen first started the foundation when he was a bus driver. He noticed all the children coming to school in the mornings with perished clothes and bags. So, after work every day, Yosef Cohen would drive his bus around Tel Aviv, collecting donations and distributing them to the poor, including many Holocaust survivors. Today, Chasdei Naomi is a “legitimate charity” with more than 20,000 volunteers.
Although these efforts bring hope to Holocaust survivors in Israel, according to The Telegraph, “The average age of an Israeli Holocaust survivor is 87 and by 2025 almost all of the remaining survivors will probably have passed away.” Bearing this in mind, countries must accelerate and intensify efforts so that reparation reaches all survivors before time runs out.
– Lena Maassen