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German foundation gives million euros to help Holocaust survivors amid pandemic

Berlin-based Alfred Landecker Foundation says survivors are particularly vulnerable in light of COVID-19, both to infection and to effects of self-isolation

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Attendees, including Holocaust survivors, at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. Their faces lined by age and haunting memories, about 100 Holocaust survivors joined political leaders in Jerusalem to recall the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 75 years earlier. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
Attendees, including Holocaust survivors, at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. Their faces lined by age and haunting memories, about 100 Holocaust survivors joined political leaders in Jerusalem to recall the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 75 years earlier. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

A Berlin-based foundation on Sunday pledged 1 million euros ($1,117 million) to support survivors of the Holocaust during the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement by the Alfred Landecker Foundation came in the wake of the death last week of William Stern, a Hungarian-born survivor of the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp and the first Holocaust survivor to die from the virus in the UK.

Four organizations will immediately benefit from the funding — Jewish Care, the UK Jewish community’s largest health and social care organization; AMCHA Israel; the Central Welfare Organization for Jews in Germany; and the UJA Federation New York.

Some 400,000 Holocaust survivors are estimated to be alive today, around 140,000 of them in Israel.

“Holocaust survivors are a particularly vulnerable demographic and the work of charitable organizations and NGOs is crucial to their day-to-day well-being,” an announcement from the foundation said. “Survivors around the world are likely to be vulnerable to the virus itself due to their age, but are also susceptible to mental health problems in situations of prolonged isolation.”

Holocaust survivors walk below the gate with its inscription, ‘Work sets you free,’ after a wreath laying at the death wall at the memorial site of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz, during ceremonies to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2020. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

“They are at a specific risk, as they suffer from the physical and psychological consequences of their persecution during the Second World War. Due to a variety of safety measures imposed by the governments around the world, the survivors can no longer participate in their therapy sessions or meet others who share their experiences. As a consequence, victims who were imprisoned for years in concentration camps now find themselves in forced isolation again.

“This experience might evoke traumatic memories and cause further pain that they have to cope with all by themselves.”

The newly established fund will extend financial support to organizations that support the survivors on a daily basis, and have been badly affected by COVID-19, from the impact of illness and self-isolation to travel restrictions and other logistical issues.

Dr. Andreas Eberhardt, the foundation’s chief executive, said that the money would be used to ensure both that survivors have enough food and that the organizations that look after them can maintain communication via computers and cellphones.

“Therapists are very often the only caregivers left for many traumatized survivors, who now live alone and in fear,” said Lukas Welz, president of AMCHA Germany. “This is why we try to do everything we can to establish new communication lines over the phone and the internet so that we can make sure we give all the necessary therapy and support.”

Aron Schuster, director of the Central Welfare Organization for Jews in Germany, said, “The humanity of a society can always be measured by how it cares for its weakest members. The next weeks and months will all put us to a test.”

The Reimann family established the foundation in honor of Alfred Landecker, who died at the hands of the Nazis when he was deported in 1942. Landecker was the father of Emilie Landecker, who had three children by Albert Reimann Jr. The foundation is dedicated to educating current and future generations about the Holocaust.

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