American Holocaust survivors struggle ‘to finish in a decent way’
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American Holocaust survivors struggle ‘to finish in a decent way’

While new funding will help provide essential services to aging survivors, the community’s expanding needs go increasingly unmet by existing resources

The 2015 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)
The 2015 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)

BOSTON — Despite recent funding infusions to provide care for aging Holocaust survivors, the dwindling community’s basic needs will outpace earmarked resources in the years ahead, according to experts.

Out of the just under 100,000 Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide who reside in the US, more than 30,000 live below poverty threshold standards, according to the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS). And as the survivor community ages, a larger segment will need increased assistance with healthcare and other basic needs.

Responding to the dire situation, the Claims Conference announced this month it will commit an additional $500 million toward Holocaust survivors’ home healthcare needs, and lift the cap on funded hours of care per survivor.

For Boston-area survivors, new funding will also come from sales of the English translation of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” manifesto. After decades of controversies tied to its stewardship of the book, Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently decided to direct royalty proceeds from “Mein Kampf” to programs run by Jewish Family & Children Service (JF&CS) for local survivors.

Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross, founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial, participating in the 2016 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)
Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross, founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial, participating in the 2016 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)

 

Totaling about $60,000 a year, “Mein Kampf” royalties will only cover a modest portion of the survivor community’s needs. Locally, the gap between these needs and available funds has hit up to $150,000 annually, according to Rick Mann, a JF&CS volunteer and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) Holocaust outreach committee.

“I had very little idea of the severity of the problem being faced by local survivors until very recently,” Mann told The Times of Israel. “There are hundreds in greater Boston who are in need of essential services,” said Mann, adding that many survivors live under the communal radar.

Nearly 300 survivors are served by JF&CS, according to Marsha Frankel, director of elder care services for the Boston agency. About five survivors are added each month, said Frankel, who estimates there are 2,500 in the area. Because some are “fearful of seeking help,” connecting survivors to appropriate services can be challenging — even when there is funding, said Frankel.

In this June 5, 2009 file photo, U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Buchenwald concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany. From left are, Holocaust survivor Bertrand Herz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president and Elie Wiesel. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
In this June 5, 2009 file photo, U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Buchenwald concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany. From left are, Holocaust survivor Bertrand Herz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president and Elie Wiesel. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“We see the will to live and the resilience,” said Frankel of survivors she has worked with for almost two decades. “Many of them face acute chronic medical conditions and poverty,” she said.

Labelling the survivors’ needs as “very intense,” Frankel said her agency’s goal is to help them remain at home for as long as possible. This requires access to services ranging from food delivery to transportation, with home healthcare being “a very expensive service to provide,” she said.

“If we can help people stay at home, they are feeling safe, with a sense of dignity and respect from the community at large,” Frankel said.

Chilly beginning, uncertain ending

Some people called them “greenhorns,” and not many made efforts to learn about the wartime experience of survivors transplanted to the US, recalled Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and long-time leader of New England’s survivor community.

Born in central Poland’s Plock, Arbeiter’s parents and brother were murdered in the Nazi death camp Treblinka. In 1939 the town’s Jews numbered some 10,000 and made up 26% of the local population; by war’s end only 300 survived.

‘We were not very welcomed by the Jewish community after the war’

In 1946, Arbeiter married his wife Anna, with whom he had survived a forced labor camp and imprisonment at Auschwitz. Within two years, Anna gave birth to a daughter and the family made their home outside Boston.

“We were not very welcomed by the Jewish community after the war,” said Arbeiter in an interview with The Times of Israel.

As put by historian Barbara Burstin, “Americans, both men and women, did not understand or appreciate what these ‘greeners’ had been through, and the survivors soon learned, if they had been so inclined, not to talk about their experiences except among themselves,” wrote Burstin about resettlement efforts.

Holocaust survivor Israel Arbeiter, a long-time leader in the community (right) with his wife, Anna Arbeiter (center), participating in the 2016 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)
Holocaust survivor Israel Arbeiter, a long-time leader in the community (right) with his wife, Anna Arbeiter (center), participating in the 2016 Yom HaShoah commemoration in Boston, Massachusetts, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (courtesy)

Seven decades after what many of them experienced as a frosty reception, thousands of Holocaust survivors again find themselves in need of assistance with their basic needs.

“We have a lot more people that are in need now, especially from the [Former Soviet Union],” said Arbeiter. “Home-care is the greatest need, along with food and medicine,” he said.

‘There are a lot of survivors who need a little help to be able to finish in a decent way’

For more than half a century, Arbeiter has advocated on behalf of survivors in the US and countries including Germany, where he received the Merit of Order in 2008 for his work on Jewish-German relations. A volunteer adviser for survivor services at JF&CS, Arbeiter has seen the community’s needs increase as more members reach advanced ages.

“There are a lot of survivors who need a little help to be able to finish in a decent way,” said Arbeiter. “We have got to have the tools to help these people,” he added.

As put by Mann, “JF&CS has to make a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ on a daily basis as to who gets services,” he said. “The problem is going to increase, not decrease, over the next decade,” he said.

Stuart E. Eizenstat, the chief negotiator of the Jewish Claims Conference, walks through the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin on Thursday. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
Stuart E. Eizenstat, the chief negotiator of the Jewish Claims Conference, walks through the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin in 2011. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

In New York City, for instance, up to 30,000 survivors — about half of the community — live in “deprivation, isolation, and poverty,” according to Stuart Eizenstat, special adviser on Holocaust issues to US Secretary of State John Kerry. In an interview with AFP last year, Eizenstat said about one-third of survivors in Israel cope with poverty, and these rates approach 90% in some FSU countries.

In the US, the government has started to fund social service grants specifically for aging Holocaust survivors. Some European countries have made reparations available to victims of the Nazis living outside Europe, but these funds are usually one-time infusions, as opposed to sustainable, ongoing support.

“There isn’t going to be an opportunity to make this right if we do not act soon,” said Mann. “We will be left feeling the pain of not having helped when our help was needed,” he said.

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