As yet another Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day arrives this evening, one must think about the time not far away when there are no longer any living witnesses of the horrors that occurred before and during World War II.
A total of 175,000 Holocaust survivors (60% of them women) are alive, and every day, an average of 41 perish, with an annual total of 14,264 perishing in 2020. According to the latest figures, 83% of them have already marked their 80th birthdays, and their average age is 84. Eighteen percent (or 34,000) are 90 years old or more and more than 900 are centenarians (over the age of 100).
Cities with the largest number of survivors are Haifa (12,100), followed by Jerusalem (10,800), Tel Aviv (9,500), Ashdod (8,700), Netanya (8,500), Beersheba (7,600), Petah Tikva (7,000) and Rishon Lezion (6,900). The largest group of 63,000 were born in the former Soviet Union, followed by Rumania (20,500), Poland (9,600), Bulgaria (4,800), Hungary (2,500) and German (2,500), but there were tens of thousands who suffered from anti-Semitism and pogroms in North Africa and Asia.
According to social services organizations, 22% of Holocaust survivors had to forgo vital services and purchases last year because of lack of money; 33% can’t afford dental services, 45% say they can’t cover basic expenses, 27% need help in purchasing hearing aids, 43% don’t have enough money to buy eyeglasses that they need and 51% need help in purchasing food.
Israel’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare announced on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day that it provides 20% — over 36,000 –
of Israeli survivors with services of various kinds. These include help in purchasing food, social clubs, promoting digital literacy, transportation for those who have difficulty reaching vital services and psychological support.
Yariv Mann, head of the ministry’s senior citizen’ division, said that “the past year has brought new challenges in providing assistance to Holocaust survivors. The need for social distancing and the Health Ministry’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 have required us to find creative solutions to keeping in touch with them. With the careful return to routine, we are working to adapt the various plans to the new reality.”
The Labor and Social Welfare spends about NIS 80 million per year (US $24 million) on various programs to assist Holocaust such as meeting their financial needs, including dental care and vision and hearing aids – but it is not enough.
There are some 70 social clubs in the country that provide a social solution along with food security and 123 designated to Holocaust survivors. For Holocaust survivors who are confined to their homes and have difficulty reaching services they need, the ministry runs a program that bring services to their homes.
In cooperation with ERAN, the voluntary Emotional First Aid organization, the ministry operates a helpline for emotional support for survivors and their families at a cost of about NIS 400,000. “Every year, we see an increase in inquiries around Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year we are witnessing more inquiries as isolation and social distancing has create further distress,” noted Mann.
The pandemic had a major influence on survivors, requiring the expansion of digital services and at the same time helping to teach computer and smartphone literacy for a population that does not always have the ability to make use of technological tools. A program called Connected operated by the ministry with the Holocaust Welfare Fund uses university and college of students who teach them digital literacy, especially to keep contact with their family and friends.
In addition, the ministry, in cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), runs the Friends in Uniform program – a large-scale national initiative to deal with the phenomenon of loneliness among Holocaust survivors. Municipal social services departments locate childless Holocaust survivors and refer to adoptive IDF units, whose role is
to maintain regular contact with them. The ministry also established contact with 5,000 Holocaust survivors to a virtual social club that functions six days a week, alleviating their loneliness.
Israelis’ thoughts about survivors must not be elicited only on Holocaust Remembrance Day but every day of the year.