Israeli Red Tape Plagues Ailing Holocaust Survivor

After 20-year struggle, Laura Derfler was finally recognized as a Holocaust survivor, only to die two hours later.

It was the sort of news that Laura Derfler had prayed would come. Throughout the past 20 years she'd usually heard the word "no," and finally they were willing to recognize her, acknowledge that she was a Holocaust survivor and had rights to compensation. After all, at age 83, Laura needed every bit of help she could get.

Though the cancer found in her body two years earlier had been contained, she was still undergoing quite a few treatments. Her husband Alfred, a Holocaust survivor, was also not in great health, to say the least.

Cloth stars which Nazis forced Jews to wear AP

The two had lived through World War II in Romania, where they both lost family members. Laura was injured and still carries scars to this day. They emigrated to Israel together, but for some reason Alfred received compensation payments but Laura did not. Each time she applied, she was told that she was not entitled because of the year in which she emigrated. Laura never understood, particularly in view of the fact that her two brothers, who also survived the Holocaust, emigrated to Israel before her and did receive compensation payments. But over and over, she was denied recognition.

Yesterday morning, after I made a number of probes, we learned that Laura was in fact entitled to receive compensation, despite being denied all these years. It turned out the criteria had changed, but no one bothered to tell her.

All Laura had to do was fill out a few forms and the money - 290 Euros per month - would be transferred to her bank account. This is money she is owed and entitled to as a Holocaust survivor, along with other rights - like the medicine she needs for free.

At noon I called Laura's daughter, Marlena, to tell her the news. She was thrilled. She could not stop thanking me on behalf of her mother, who could not talk because she hadn't been feeling well the last few days.

At 1:55 P.M., Laura died.

It is still unclear what she died of, perhaps an infection and complications stemming from it. She went to the hospital earlier this week, but the doctors sent her home. But it no longer matters what she died of. We, the living, are now trying to deal with the frustration, the pain and the sadness.

Painful statistics

I did not know Laura personally. It was her daughter who had contacted me to try and help. We cannot say that if Laura had received her payments in time she would have lived longer, but she could have been able to live better, that is clear.

She would not have had to choose between buying medicine and paying her electricity bill, or buying clothes. And each one of those people who overlooked her is guilty in his or her own way for the sad years this woman had to endure toward the end of her life. No one did it on purpose, but that is just how things work here. Because almost no one actually cares.

For years, the Israeli bureaucratic machine knew how to keep benefits from Holocaust survivors. In recent years, thanks to public protest, the rules have changed in favor of the survivors. But all too often we realize that the bodies that are supposedly there to help the survivors simply do not bother to inform them. And the statistics are painful.

Each day that passes, 35 survivors pass away. It is time to put an end to the discrimination between survivors, to stop putting them through hell for a pittance. Give everyone who was in Europe at that time - regardless of where he was during the Holocaust - something, because soon there will be no one left to give to.