Editorial / Help the Survivors

This year, when the world marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps, more than 20,000 Israeli schoolchildren will go to Poland, a record number. Some 350,000 pupils have taken part in the 17 years since those trips began, but along with the growth in the number of participants has been a growth in the critical research about the educational content of the journeys. Among other things, there is a complaint that there is nothing in the journeys about Jewish life in Poland before the communities there were destroyed.

The criticism of these journeys has special importance in light of the sorry conditions of some of the survivors who live in the state of Israel. As reported by Haaretz on April 7, at least 25 percent of the estimated 250,000 survivors in Israel have difficulty paying for food and medicines, and the only body that helps them - the Fund for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors - will be forced to cease functioning if $15 million is not transferred to the fund. The Claims Conference allocated the fund $31 million in 2004, while the Israeli government allocated only $400,000. After a wave of public outrage, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this week that he would transfer another NIS 5 million to the fund.

The Knesset held a recess session this week to discuss the sorry state of the fund. The discussion exposed feelings of anger, shame and insult among the survivors. There was talk of a double injustice: that after they survived the horrors of the Holocaust and contributed to the establishment of Israel and its survival, the survivors are forced in their old age to beg for diapers and false teeth; that after Israel received billions of dollars from Germany to rehabilitate the survivors and take care of them, the government used the money to establish the state, and now the survivors need the state's help more than ever, and feel as if it has abandoned them.

Ze'ev Factor, chairman of the fund and an Auschwitz survivor, says that in Israel they love feeling the pain of the Holocaust but have an ambivalent feeling about the survivors. That is evident, for example, in the shameful refusal of Bank Leumi to transfer information and money to survivors and their heirs who are demanding NIS 300 million from the bank - a negligible amount for a bank that made NIS 1.86 billion in 2004.

The state's attitude toward the survivors is also shameful. The pension it pays the eligible survivors is half what Germany pays eligible survivors; the money the state allocates for chronic care for survivors is negligible compared to what Germany allocates for the same purpose. Last year, as a result of negotiations with the Claims Conference, Germany gave 6 million euro for care-giving. In negotiations that are scheduled for another two weeks, the Claims Conference will be asked to increase that sum as a result of the mounting needs of the survivors.

The state of Israel must increase its support for the needy survivors. In addition to the ailments of old age, six years of hunger, imprisonment, and slavery caused many of them to suffer from disease, broken bones and psychological and neurological problems. Nobody denies the importance of investment in commemoration activities like the construction of the new museum at Yad Vashem. But according to research at the Brookdale Institute, the number of survivors who need help will peak in the years between 2004 and 2006. Now is the time to help them.