New Support for Israeli and Polish Holocaust Survivors

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JERUSALEM– A new law will allow Polish Holocaust survivors—along with Polish victims of Soviet persecution who are no longer living in Poland—to be eligible for monthly payments of around $135.

Prior to this change in legislation, veterans or victims of oppression of Polish descent could receive these monthly benefits only if they had a Polish bank account or knew a resident in Poland who was willing to transfer the money.

Very few Polish Holocaust survivors applied for pensions before the change in legislation, according to the Times of Israel.

“What is new in these provisions is that Polish authorities, in particular the social security authority, will be able to transfer veteran benefits to claimants residing anywhere in the world at the cost of the Polish authorities,” said Sebastian Rejak, the Polish foreign minister’s special envoy for relations with the Jewish Diaspora.

All Polish Holocaust survivors who suffered in death, concentration, labor or transit camps during the Nazi occupation, were forced into hiding or were present during the Soviet occupation are potentially eligible to receive the monthly pensions.

The new legislation will take effect October 2014 for residents of the European Union and April 2015 for the rest of the world.

However, Poland is not the only country to provide aid to Holocaust survivors. Israel is aiming to provide aid to the quarter of the 200,000 Holocaust survivors who live under the poverty line. A recent survey taken by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel found that one in five Holocaust survivors had to choose between food and other necessities over the past two years.

The Israeli government has asked Parliament to approve a little more than 1 billion shekels a year—or $300 million—to help Holocaust survivors during the final years of their lives. This program would also include survivors living in poverty.

Should the act gain Parliament’s approval, the new program will provide stronger monetary awards and remove the bureaucratic procedures that may have prevented survivors from applying for past assistance. The program will also offer addition aid like counseling.

This law would also amend an old law from the 1950s that many in Israel deem unfit. That law stated that the reparations Germany gave to Israel at the end of World War II can only be offered directly to survivors who arrived in Israel by 1953.

“That was maybe right for those days,” said Rony Kalinksey, the CEO of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims. “Now, when the Holocaust survivors are old and their needs are so high, this is the time to try and to make the changes.”

The new plan will place the nearly 200,000 survivors into two groups: those who were forced into ghettos or concentration camps and those who were not. For those in the first group, they will be potentially eligible for a monthly payment from Israel between $600-$1,200. Those in the second group may be eligible for an annual stipend of $1,000 along with full medical coverage and psychological support.

For some survivors, however, this is too little, too late.

“Far too late,” said Yulia Feuerman, one of the 20,000 survivors who arrived in Israel after 1953, “the only people still alive were children then. I was 10 years old. Now I have one foot in the grave. They should have thought of this sooner.”

Sources: NPR, Tablet, Times of Israel
Photo: Flickr

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