Poverty on the rise among Holocaust survivors

Poverty on the rise among Holocaust survivors

More than a quarter live below the poverty line, study finds; 61% say relationship with government has not improved

An unidentified Holocaust survivor sits holding his cane in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial complex in Jerusalem (photo credit: Pierre Terdjman/Flash90)
An unidentified Holocaust survivor sits holding his cane in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial complex in Jerusalem (photo credit: Pierre Terdjman/Flash90)

Despite protests from Holocaust survivors and promises of action by politicians, poverty among the survivors has risen over the last year, according to a study released Wednesday by the Foundation for the Benefit of the Holocaust Victims in Israel.

More than a quarter — 50,000 — of some 193,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, compared to 25 percent in 2013, and 60% experience financial hardship, the study found.

In an illustration of the stagnation revealed in the survey, 61% of respondents said that they did not feel there had been any change over the past year in the relationship between survivors and the government, and 55% said they were not satisfied with the government’s attitude.

In addition, among those who applied for financial assistance, 86% live on less than NIS 5,000 ($1,432) per month, and, of those, 60% — compared to 58% in 2013 — live on less than NIS 3,000 ($860).

The financial crunch for survivors is having profound effects on their quality of life, as one in five who responded to the survey said that they had to give up either food or drugs over the past two years because they could not afford it.

After the release of the foundation’s 2013 survey, members of the Knesset’s Health and Welfare Committee met in April of last year for a special hearing on improving the welfare and living conditions of Holocaust survivors. During the meeting, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who lost patience with the proceedings blasted the government for wasting time on endless debates, while abandoning survivors to die in poverty.

“What you’re doing to the survivors is a crime and a disgrace. [Former prime minister David] Ben-Gurion made a pact, promising we would receive money for the rest of our lives,” said Tivon resident Dora Roth, who immigrated to Israel in 1952 after losing her family and enduring WWII Europe as a child.

“What have you done with the money?” demanded Roth, pointing her finger at the attending politicians. “Seeing a Holocaust survivor who can’t afford to heat his home in the winter and can’t afford to buy food or medicine is your disgrace. I don’t care about your committees. They mean nothing to us. I came all the way here to ask you one thing: Let us die in dignity.”

MKs expressed their regret at the situation and vowed they would take action to improve it, but apparently to no avail.

However, Finance Minister Yair Lapid introduced a proposal last week to increase by NIS 1 billion ($289 million) the budget for the 200,000 victims of the Nazi atrocities living in Israel.

The bill, which includes higher monthly stipends and free medication for the survivors, is set to be presented for a Knesset vote on April 27 — the day before the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

One of Lapid’s first acts as finance minister was to order the transfer of more than NIS 50 million ($13 million) to the foundation. The money was earmarked for quality-of-life needs for aging survivors, including at-home nursing care.

Times of Israel staff and Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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