As Holocaust survivors and elected leaders of Holocaust survivor groups, we were shocked to read William Daroff’s and Jewish Federations of North America’s recent statement, contained in a JTA story, describing an increase in federal government spending from $2.5 million to $5 million for Holocaust survivors’ needs as enabling the system “to ensure that Holocaust survivors are able to live in dignity and comfort for the remainder of their lives” (“Spending Bill Includes Big Boost For Jewish Groups Seeking Security Money,” posted online on April 11). We are supplying these facts to make sure that Mr. Daroff, the JFNA leadership, and the entire Jewish community truly understand the actual harsh realities that survivors in need are facing each and every day.
Holocaust survivors suffer from far more severe physical and mental health diseases and problems because of the atrocities committed by the German Nazi regime. As Dr. Barbara Paris of Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital testified in Congress: “Years of malnutrition, hard physical labor, repeated beatings, frostbite and mental anguish take their toll and catch up with you in old age. Survivors have severe degenerative joint disease, severe osteoporosis causing spinal and hip fractures, dental, vision and hearing problems that require many resources to help preserve dignity and independence.” The cost of providing for survivors’ still-unmet needs is in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
With home care alone costing at least $15 per hour in medium-sized cities, and the average survivor in his or her 80s and 90s needing a minimum of 25 hours of home care per week, $2.5 million would provide only enough home care for a total of 128 Holocaust survivors. Of course, many survivors need significantly more home care hours every week — many needing it 24/7. And in New York, of course, the cost of home care is even higher so the “new funding” would serve even fewer survivors. With 30,000 U.S. survivors living in poverty, as JFNA acknowledged, it is ludicrous for Mr. Daroff or JFNA to make the statement they made.
We regret a release with such inaccurate information has been disseminated and trust Mr. Daroff and JFNA will issue the correct information as rapidly as possible. We survivors have been fighting to get the Jewish Community to understand how much underinvestment continues when it comes to providing help for the tens of thousands of survivors in need. We cannot understand the misinformation and tone deafness about the actual plight among so many survivors who have suffered for so long — during the Holocaust, and in the years since in grinding poverty and without the financial means for basic health care and other essential needs.
We only pray fervently that the Claims Conference, as well, will negotiate seriously in their long-awaited annual meeting with German government officials, because every year their results only reinforce the poverty and suffering among survivors in need. The proof? After years negotiations, the current allocations from Germany provide about one-third of the home care funding for survivors currently being served. Yet, the Claims Conference continues to pay exorbitant salaries to top executives while survivors continue to suffer. It is long-past time for those “in charge” to articulate the true suffering that continues despite these negotiations each and every year.
In 2016, both Houses of the U.S. Congress unanimously passed resolutions calling on the government of Germany to fully fund 100 percent of survivors’ needs worldwide. They understood that current levels of funding from Germany, through the Claims Conference and current system, are grossly inadequate and subject to arbitrary limits. It is long overdue for the Jewish leadership to join with the survivors and demand, from Germany, full funding so survivors will in truth be able to live their lives in dignity.
Leo Rechter, Esther Widman, Sello Fisch and Charles Srebnik are officials of the National Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (NAHOS) and the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.