A Survivor's Plea to the State: Stop Humiliating Us

Is it reasonable to ask someone who has been through the Holocaust to prove how tormented her soul is just to be eligible for a disability allowance?

Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai
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Holocaust survivors protest outside government offices in Tel Aviv in December.
Holocaust survivors protest outside government offices in Tel Aviv in December. Credit: Nir Caspi
Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai

The heading of the letter she sent us was “To Whom It May Concern.” She doesn't know a more exact address for her complaints, let alone have a reasonable explanation for the state's behavior.

She is 82 years old, a Holocaust survivor. She lost her husband 30 years ago in a traffic accident and since then she has been alone.

She asked us not to reveal her name. In any case, her story represents so many of the survivors who are still living among us, she explained. For many years she refused to join the list of Holocaust survivors receiving reparations from Germany, and only in the past decade did she start receiving the payments. She is recognized as being 25% disabled, which translates into a monthly disability allowance of NIS 1,800 plus change.

That is exactly what infuriates her: The Finance Ministry pays survivors based on their level of disability. As if it was possible to measure suffering in percentages. She also complains about the discrimination in the amounts given as compensation to survivors, and that if you ask for additional help the road is long and humiliating – and includes a reexamination of your disability, in particular. As if someone who came back from the war without a limp is not suffering. As if it was possible to measure the percentage of disability of a tormented soul.

“At first I asked the treasury to accept me, to reexamine if I deserve more,” she said. “But that night I felt I couldn’t, and I didn’t have the strength to go to them – and I canceled. I felt they were humiliating me. All of us are damaged, and I don’t need to justify myself for what I have endured. I won’t be able to stand it. Even when I went to arrange the compensation I had pains and crying attacks. They asked me for witnesses. The witness I had was five years old at the time of the Holocaust,” she said.

She is not miserable, it is important to say; that is not her story. She has a house on a moshav, two children, seven grandchildren and even one great- granddaughter – and she will never go hungry. She just doesn’t understand why even when the generation of survivors is disappearing, the state insists on examining all those remaining with a fine-tooth comb – and does not allow them to live and die with honor. “It infuriates me that they ask for donations before the holidays to collect money for Holocaust survivors so they will have money for a bowl of soup. There is money in this country and everyone knows it, but when we approach [the treasury] we must pass through the seven circles of hell.”

She lost her brother in the Holocaust; her grandparents, aunts and uncles – they were all murdered at Auschwitz. She herself survived the war with her mother and sister in Hungary. They came to Israel on the illegal immigrant ship "Theodor Herzl." They could just glimpse the lights of Haifa, and then the British deported them to Cyprus for nine months.

“I was in the school in Nahalal, the army, kibbutz and moshav for 58 years. I remained a Zionist. I love Israel, including all there is here, the good and the bad. But I think there must be equality. Today those who fight to have a higher [disability] percentage receive more. I think that is unjust. There are people who are so unfortunate they simply don’t have the strength to fight,” she said.

Israel has made impressive strides in every aspect of its handling of Holocaust survivors: New laws, benefits and in particular public attention that was absent in the past. But time is running out.

Now is the time for a dramatic change: to give -- as long as it is still possible – with outstretched arms, without forms, without examinations, without witnesses and without measuring disabilities. The money is there; the department dealing with survivors is wonderfully funded; we just need to let them come and take it.

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