Plethora of Holocaust Support Groups Still Can't Work Together

For the first time in the history of Holocaust survivor assistance, representatives of every relevant agency and organization sat around the same table last Wednesday. The unprecedented meeting took place in the Tel Aviv offices of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

Initiated by the foundation's chairman Elazar Stern and its CEO, Rony Kalinsky, the meeting was to have symbolized the beginning of a new era in providing assistance to Holocaust survivors. But the outcome revealed a sorry state of affairs. Even before the gathering took place, there was disagreement over where it should be held. Not even one conclusion was arrived at during the actual event, which ended with an argument over who should release a statement to the press.

After years of neglect of Holocaust survivors, public protest has demanded change. But despite the good intentions of government institutions to amend the situation, confusion, lack of coordination and bureaucracy continue to reign.

No less than 10 main agencies are in charge of Holocaust survivors, each one operating by its own rules, criteria, information and sizable budget. Organizational egos, lack of a unified policy and, primarily, the fact that the state has never compiled a single list of Holocaust survivors, has led to too many survivors falling between the cracks.

Yaron Jacobs, CEO of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets, says, for example, that the company now holds more than NIS 1 billion that belongs to people killed in the Holocaust. Because heirs will not be found for most of the money, a significant portion could be given to needy survivors. But Jacobs concedes that his organization's lists do not allow him to distribute the money in a way that does justice to survivors.

"There are people who receive too much assistance and those who don't receive what they deserve," he says. "The right hand not only doesn't know what the left hand is doing, but the hands are connected to different bodies."

The Finance Ministry's Authority for Holocaust Survivors' Rights says there is no legal way to cross-reference lists of Holocaust survivors because of privacy laws.

However, the charitable NGO Latet, for example, is said to have overcome this obstacle by having survivors sign a waiver. The group reportedly has the most up-to-date lists of survivors, although those, too, are far from complete due to the lack of cooperation among the various groups.

"No one will get sent to jail if we cross-reference our lists," says Stern, who adds that is having trouble persuading the leaders of the other groups.

The committee appointed in 2008 to study assistance given to survivors determined, among other recommendations, that the state should increase its compensation payments to survivors to 75 percent of what the German government pays; this also fell in line with the High Court of Justice ruling. The latter ruling was never implemented, and in an attempt to better care for survivors the number of agencies has mushroomed.

The Authority for Holocaust Survivors' Rights, for example, only deals with survivors who came to Israel before the law on compensation to survivors was passed. Another body handles those who arrived here thereafter. Then there are those survivors who receive compensation directly from Germany, the Social Affairs Ministry (which runs a project providing medication to survivors ), the veteran organization Amcha (which focuses on mental health ), and others.

The chairman of the Knesset's caucus for survivors, MK Zeev Bielski (Kadima ), has proposed a bill to establish a single authority that would be in charge of all groups that assist survivors.