A concentration camp survivor in her early 90s refused to leave her sixth-floor walkup apartment in Union County during Superstorm Sandy, despite having no heat or electricity.
“She had very limited use of her legs,” said Tom Beck, executive director of the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, who asked that the woman’s name not be given.
“In addition to suffering from Parkinson’s disease, she is a diabetic whose insulin had to be refrigerated. She was at risk of dying,” he told NJ Jewish News in a June 14 phone interview.
But the trauma she suffered from her experience at the hands of the Nazis affected her response to the storm, said Beck. “She was absolutely terrified about leaving and not ever being able to return.”
For the woman, said Beck, “it was deja vu. It took a nurse and social worker hours of gentle discussion to persuade her to leave her home and go to the safety of her daughter’s apartment.”
The woman was among the 450 Holocaust survivors in New Jersey who, in order to get by, must receive home care assistance. It’s provided through the state’s Jewish family service agencies, with much of the funding coming from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The conference subsidizes the service agencies’ food, health, and home care programs for survivors.
But with that funding falling short of providing for the full range of survivors’ needs, Jewish federations and survivor support groups are seeking greater aid for survivors on both state and federal levels.
After the Jewish federations sought $400,000 from the NJ State Legislature to help fund Holocaust survivor assistance programs, the lawmakers granted 50 percent of their request.
“Our application was based on the two-year allocation shortfall of monies received from the Claims Conference,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. “To their credit, the legislators wanted to do something on a bipartisan basis, but they couldn’t give us 100 percent.
“Although there will still be unmet needs, we are pleased that the legislature and the governor recognized there was a need to be met for Holocaust survivors,” he told NJJN. “Given the state’s budget and the difficult choices that had to be made, the Jewish community is quite pleased with the outcome.”
On a federal level, the Jewish Federations of North America is strongly supporting a proposal called Responding to Urgent Needs of Survivors of the Holocaust Act or the RUSH Act.
An amendment to the Older Americans Act, it would add Holocaust survivors to a priority list for social services, and designate someone within the Administration on Aging to oversee the implementation of services to survivors.
“The bottom line is those current funds just are not sufficient,” said Reuben Rotman, executive director of the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, whose agency also provides subsidized home-care assistance to 50-60 survivors a year.
Like many senior citizens, the survivors often require home health care, nursing, meals-on-wheels, transportation, and case management. The frequent goal is to enable them to remain in their own homes.
But Holocaust survivors have additional needs; many continue to live with enduring trauma that can intensify as they grow older.
“There are many survivors in our state who live in poverty and have to decide whether they should eat or buy their medicine,” said Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest.
“They never became the earners they could have been if they had had the opportunity to get an education or have family support. They were destitute and homeless, naked and barefoot at the end of the war,” she said.
Maris Chavenson, a geriatric social worker at the JFS of Central New Jersey, described another nonagenarian Elizabeth resident who “came from a very traumatizing experience.”
Born in Hungary and relocated to a ghetto in Czechoslovakia, she survived a death march and narrowly escaped execution at a death camp in Poland. “She remembers the pain of having no one in her family left except one brother,” said Chavenson.
Although the survivor receives a Social Security check, she struggles financially. Because she has trouble walking and hearing, she requires assistance from a home health aide.
“We are taking extremely good care of her to help her maintain the best quality of life that she can,” said Chavenson. “But she cannot go out shopping any longer or attend meetings of Café Europa” — a social and supportive program for survivors sponsored by JFS. “She has become too frail.”
In addition to direct stipends to survivors, the Claims Conference provides funding for various senior services through the family services.
“We have historically gotten funding through the Claims Conference, which allocates around $1.8 million per year to survivors in New Jersey, which they have obtained through the sale of unclaimed properties in Germany.
In a June 13 e-mail, William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office, urged support for the RUSH Act, which is currently in committee.
“It is a moral imperative that we help Holocaust survivors today. It is imperative that we continue to do our utmost to aid and support those who continue to bear witness to this horrific period in our history.”