As Holocaust survivors age, their needs are outstripping the resources currently provided by the German government. Of the estimated 500,000 Holocaust survivors living today, 100,000 are in the United States.
On April 22, a resolution was introduced in Congress by Representatives Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) urging the German government to provide additional funds to close the gap between current funding and the actual costs of medical care, home care, and mental health care of aging Holocaust survivors.
The resolution was timed to coincide with President Obama’s visit to Germany, where he arrived on May 1, the week of Yom Hashoa, which falls on May 5.
The German government is engaged in a new round of negotiations with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, which is gathering specific data in support of the negotiations, according to its public relations manager, Amy Wexler.
“Every year, as survivors age, their needs grow,” said Deutch in a press release. “Tragically, more and more are falling into poverty and lack the funds to cover essential needs. Right now, we are facing a unique and critical moment in history.”
The Claims Conference provides an overwhelming portion of financial assistance to survivors, allocated through federations, Jewish Family Service organizations — locally, JFS of MetroWest and JFS of Central NJ — and national organizations like Blue Card and international resources like Jewish Care. Some of these organizations also do their own fund-raising. Claims Conference monies come mostly from the German government — over $309.2 million worldwide of a total of $374.5 million, with the balance from a combination of the Austrian government, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, assets looted from Swiss banks, and the proceeds derived from the sale of other property stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. (The United States’ share is $126.6 million, $117.2 million from Germany.)
According to Wexler, by far survivors’ biggest need is home care; providing such care can mean the difference between a survivor living at home safely and having to move to a nursing home. Other funds are needed to pay for food delivery, items like glasses and dentures, and emergency cash assistance to pay for heating bills and other necessities, she said.
The German government has acknowledged its responsibility for the darkest period in modern Jewish history. Even as it provides a haven for current refugees of a new crisis, its responsibility toward Nazi-era survivors continues. Germany must not let the survivors down in their old age, precisely because it is the country that provides their single most important source of financial benefits. As the survivors’ needs deepen and change with age, the German government must respond to Congress’s resolution and other calls for it to meet the challenge and minimize the suffering of each and every living survivor.