The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved an agreement between Israel and Germany that will see Berlin allocate an extra NIS 20 million (€5,356,257) per year toward the monthly stipends of some 3,700 Holocaust survivors.
This will increase each stipend by 100 euros per month.
Those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease will get an annual payment of 500 euros in addition to the monthly stipends.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the decision to approve the stipends was “the most important” that the cabinet had made in its weekly meeting.
“The State of Israel has a historic debt to Holocaust survivors,” he tweeted. “Our mission is to make it easier for them in the last years of their lives.”
The development came following an agreement in principle that was signed in 2019 with the German finance ministry. The extra funding was finally approved after Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, a government body, asked Germany for the additional funding due to the increasingly difficult financial and mental circumstances of many survivors, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen said that lockdowns ordered during the pandemic over the past year and a half, which at times kept Israelis confined to their homes, had “opened old wounds for many Holocaust survivors” who had endured lockdowns and isolation during their childhoods.
The addition to the stipends, she said, will help with “the mental care of closing those old wounds that came up.”
An April survey found that over half of the Holocaust survivors living in Israel require food handouts, with many saying they don’t have the funds to pay for essentials such as eyeglasses and hearing aids.
In a poll conducted by the nonprofit Holocaust Survivors’ Welfare Fund, 51 percent of respondents said they relied on food given to them by various charities, with a third saying they were in “dire need” of the assistance.
According to the poll, many survivors say they are forced to give up essentials in order to be able to pay for food. Forty-three percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough money for glasses, 33% said they couldn’t afford dental care and 27% said they couldn’t pay for hearing aids.
The number of Holocaust survivors in Israel requiring financial assistance has risen in recent years.
According to a State Comptroller report released in October, there were 51,175 survivors who receive yearly grants — 70% of the total — who require additional financial benefits “to live with dignity,” up from 67% in 2017.
In January, the Central Bureau of Statistics said that some 900 Holocaust survivors in Israel had died of COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic in 2020. Over the year, some 3,500 Holocaust survivors were known to have contracted the virus, meaning that the reported death rate among survivors was 17%, slightly higher than the 16% death rate seen in the general population for the same age group.
Earlier this month, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Israel and laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, where she declared that Germany bears a “responsibility” toward Holocaust survivors.