Of the 4,300 Israelis who have died from the COVID-19 virus, a shocking 900 of them were Holocaust survivors, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp on January 27, 1945. About 5,300 Holocaust survivors became infected with the virus.
On average, the nearly 180,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel are in their 80s and 90s or have reached a century of life; some 850 Holocaust survivors living in Israel at the end of 2020 were aged 100 or more. Six out of 10 survivors are women. The death rate among survivors was only a bit higher – 17% – than that of the general population in Israel (16%).
The Holocaust began with the beginning of World War II in 1939 and ended in 1945, although Hitler’s rule as Chancellor began in Germany in 1933.
One of the survivors is 94-year-old Mrs. Joya Kimchi, who is confined to a wheelchair. She was taken this week to get vaccinated at the Clalit Arena complex in Jerusalem with the help of Yad Sarah volunteers. Now she expects to be reunited with her great-grandchildren, who serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Joya says she has not been out of the house since the beginning of the corona, except when her son takes her, and now she hopes she can get back to routine.
A native of Yugoslavia (now Serbia), Kimchi was in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from 1941 to 1945, where she lost most of her family. “From my mother’s side, the whole family perished in the Holocaust. All 70 families who came from the same town died. When we left the camp, we were left with nothing, and so we arrived in Israel empty-handed. Here we started a family and my son was born from him I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren who serve in the army.”
Kimchi said that when the first vaccines became available, she could not get vaccinated because of her confinement to the wheelchair. At this point, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Welfare Department entered the picture together with a her health maintenance organization, which contacted Yad Sarah volunteers, who drove her to have her first shot, and three weeks later she will also travel to the second vaccine. “I had almost no side effects. I call on all the elderly to get help and get vaccinated to take care of themselves.”
Moshe Cohen, director-general of Yad Sarah – which lends out medical equipment and provides a wide variety of services to the sick, lonely and disabled, said that “17,500 Holocaust survivors have not yet been vaccinated against the virus, mostly due to limited accessibility,” even though the two-dose vaccine is available free to all Israelis, with those over 40 years old getting top priority now. “They must not be abandoned. We must act quickly,” Cohen said.
Since the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored in -70 Celsius-degree temperatures and can be kept at room temperature for only a short time before having to be thrown out, it has been difficult to bring the vaccine to individual homes; Israelis are vaccinated en masse in health maintenance organization clinics, hospitals and in geriatric facilities. In recent weeks, Yad Sarah volunteers have been working all over the country to transport Holocaust survivors to the vaccination points.
“We are in a race around the clock to help any elderly person who is interested in getting vaccinated,” continued Cohen. “In Jerusalem and Beesheba, we are assisted by the welfare departments that refer the elderly to us and participate in the cost of transportation. I call on all the heads of the authorities in the country to cooperate with us so that there will be no elderly person in the country who wants to get vaccinated and has not done so because of an accessibility problem.