Israeli Watchdog Slams Government Over Treatment of Holocaust Survivors

Nonprofit groups are helping out, but this isn’t enough for the country’s 158,000 survivors, one-third of whom are said to be poor

A  Holocaust survivor attends a demonstration in Jerusalem.
A Holocaust survivor attends a demonstration calling on the Israeli government to increase stipends for the country’s Shoah survivors, in Jerusalem, Aug. 5, 2007. AP

The government should act quickly to improve the lot of Israel’s dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, State Comptroller Shapira said Wednesday in a report that blamed the government for letting the community down.

Shapira also said Israel needed a central coordinating agency in the field, without which nonprofit groups have had to step in.

Issued just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Sunday evening, the report said the state’s approach to the survivors might influence the memory of the Holocaust for generations. It could prove to be the yardstick with which care for the country’s elderly in general is measured, Shapira wrote.

The comptroller mentioned complex legislation that made it impossible for some survivors to take advantage of benefits they were entitled to, while survivors were not getting help to ensure they had enough food.

Also, the ministries of social affairs and social equality were not fully spending their allocations for Holocaust survivors, not to mention other shortcomings in providing health care, public housing and nursing care whether at home or in nursing homes.

Despite the help of nonprofit groups, there was duplication of efforts amid inefficiencies in allocating resources, Shapira wrote.

The lack of proper housing is a main problem for many survivors. Many, particularly those who immigrated in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union, do not own their own homes and face high monthly rental payments, Shapira wrote. And some survivors forgo other basic necessities to meet their housing costs. Meanwhile, about 16,000 are on waiting lists for public housing.

Around 158,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel. Their average age is 85 and about 1,000 of them die every month, Shapira said. As a result, their needs should be addressed “without delay.”

Shapira said Israel was failing some of the survivors even though in recent years the cabinet had adopted resolutions on the matter, and legislation had been amended to benefit the survivors.

Reacting to the comptroller’s report, MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who heads the Knesset caucus on the elderly and Holocaust survivors, said one-third of the country’s survivors lived below the poverty line.

Shapira added that the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority had failed in its responsibilities. Although nonprofit groups strive to provide assistance “out of good intentions,” this is insufficient and done without coordination with others.

The Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority had a budget last year of 4.9 billion shekels ($1.3 billion), most of which was devoted to direct payments to survivors, with some going to agencies that provide services. As of January, when the comptroller’s office completed its survey for the report, the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority had not yet carried out a thorough study of the survivors and their needs, Shapira said.