Amid ongoing public outcry in Israel regarding the plight of Holocaust survivors, Stuart Eizenstat, a special advisor on Holocaust issues to US Secretary of State John Kerry, spoke out in the press.
Eizenstat estimated that over 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide are living in impoverished conditions. According to Eizenstat, urgent help is needed if they are going to be able to live out the rest of their lives in a dignified manner.
“It’s really unacceptable that those people, who in their youth suffered so grievously, should have to live out their declining years in deprivation, isolation and poverty,” Eizenstat told AFP reporters.
Eizenstat was attending the “Living In Dignity” conference, which was organized by the European Shoah Legacy Institute. The conference was held to follow up on and further implement the Terezin Declaration, a non-binding document signed by 46 countries in June 2009. It deals with reparations of stolen goods and art by the Nazis, and includes a section on the welfare and care of the survivors. The two-day conference, aimed at helping survivors achieve a life of dignity, took place in Prague, and was attended by representatives of 39 countries.
Eizenstat, a former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, acted as co-chair of the conference. He provided specific statistics regarding the geographic distribution of these survivors.
“In New York City alone, of the 60,000 survivors, 50% are in that state [of poverty]. In Israel about a third are, and in the former Soviet Union countries, upwards of 85-90% are in poverty,” he said. “All the surveys indicate that substantial percentages of those [survivors] are living in poverty or near poverty,” he added.
In Israel, one organization taking an active role in alleviating these difficult conditions for survivors is Meir Panim.
“Having overcome unthinkable cruelties, aging Holocaust survivors deserve to live the remainder of their lives in comfort and dignity,” a spokesperson with the organization explained. “With its Free Restaurants, Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, and Food Shopping Card program, Meir Panim offers assistance and relief to thousands of poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors while preserving their self-respect.”
Thousands of Holocaust survivors receive daily hot meals in Meir Panim’s soup kitchens, and thousands more meals are home-delivered by volunteers, who visit the survivors and check on their welfare. Meir Panim’s “Warm Winter” project, established in conjunction with the Russian Jewish Federation, distributed heaters and warm blankets in the winter, to protect survivors from the cold weather.
Most of the world’s survivors live in Israel; the countries with the next largest survivor populations are Russia, the United Kingdom, France and the Ukraine.
Eizenstat brought to light some of the European countries who are making a positive impact. According to Eizenstat, Austria and Poland have implemented programs to pay pensions to survivors who suffered in their countries but currently live abroad. Germany, for its part, is running a four-year, 920 million euro ($1 billion) home care program for survivors.
As reported in the Prague Post, 94-year-old Colonel Pavel Vranský, another speaker at the event who made a very big impression on the audience, cited concrete examples of the struggles Holocaust survivors face.
“Many of them are very often confronted by nightmares, as they are approaching death,” Vranský said, clearly suggesting that the memory of the specter of death that hung over their youth casts a pall over the final days of their lives, too. Pointedly, making reference to the very small sums of money the remaining individuals have to live on — and it is fascinating to note the longevity of these survivors — he added that “many survivors receive lower pensions than their tormentors did.”