JERUSALEM (AP), — A group of octogenarians bundled against the cold chattered in Hebrew and Russian as they sorted through piles of grapefruit, onions, and carrots in a Jerusalem courtyard.
Nearly all of them Holocaust survivors, the volunteers were collecting winter blankets and food donations before the snowstorm that ravaged the city on the eve International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Israel was founded in 1948 to provide refuge for Jews following the Holocaust. It makes great efforts to remember 6 million Jews who were killed in Nazi genocide, as well as to honor the survivors as heroes.
According to survivors’ advocacy groups, one in three Israeli survivors lives in poverty. Although survivors are eligible for government stipends they still depend on food donations from Israeli charities such as Chasdei Naomi.
The state of Israel is responsible for Holocaust survivors’ care. Tshuva Cabra is the head of donations for the group.
On Wednesday, the charity’s volunteers and staff distributed food parcels and flowers to Jerusalem’s poor survivors. “If they don’t want us to be there for them then who will?” She said that it was really sad that only non-governmental organizations are acting.
Thursday marked the 77th anniversary the liberation in Poland of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp. Nazi Germany and its allies decimated an estimated third of the world’s Jewry. Hundreds of thousands of survivors fled to Israel after the war.
Each year the country loses its connection to Holocaust survivors. A government department called the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority stated that more than 15,000 Holocaust survivors had died by 2021.
The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel (an umbrella group that represents 50 organizations that help Holocaust survivors in Israel) stated that approximately one-third of Israel’s Holocaust survivors are living in poverty.
Many of the most poor immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s after it was disintegrated. Many of them arrived in poverty, struggled to learn a new language and had trouble establishing social networks.
“The war was extremely difficult for Jews. The Nazis were very cruel to Jews. “We fled and did everything we could to survive,” Paulina Perchuk (83 years old Ukrainian immigrant) said. “I pray it won’t happen again in this world.”
Colette Avital is a Holocaust survivor and ex-diplomat from Israel. She heads the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.
According to Israel’s Social Equality Ministry, it provided $1.2 billion support for Holocaust survivors in 2021. Over 50,000 Holocaust survivors receive monthly stipends between $800 to $2,000 per month. Around 15,500 are entitled to $3,600 for severe disabilities.
Many people find that these sums are insufficient to meet their daily needs as Israel’s cost of living continues to rise. According to the Chasdei Naomi charity, it provides food for 10,000 survivors. This figure has increased by 4,000 since then. The number of requests for assistance with electric bills has increased by 40% in the past year. This is in addition to rising inflation and living costs in Israel.
Meirav Cohen is Israel’s minister of social equality. She said that her department watches over the well-being of Holocaust survivors.
In a statement, her office released, she stated that Holocaust survivors are on average 85 years old. These are their final years, and we must serve them. We have to document as much of their stories as possible, as there will soon be no one left to tell them.
Her office declined to interview me.
The foundation of Israeli identity is still based on Holocaust remembrance. Large numbers of the country are descendants of Holocaust survivors. Each spring, the country observes its Holocaust Remembrance Day. Foreign dignitaries visit the country to pay tribute to the Jews who died in the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, which acts as both a memorial and a research center.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennet stated earlier in the week that $10 million would be allocated to Yad Vashem for additional funding to “preserve memory of Holocaust in Israel” and other areas. This represents a nearly 20% increase in Yad Vashem’s annual budget for 2020. The Israeli government funded more than a third of it.
Avital thanked the government for allocating more money to Yad Vashem, but said that “the welfare Holocaust survivors should be prior to anything else.”