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Around the Jewish World Prague Looks Westward to Fund a New Senior Home for Survivors

February 26, 2004
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The road to Prague goes through New York — at least it does if you’re a Czech Jew trying to build a new $6 million senior residence for Czech Holocaust survivors and you’re short on cash.

In the coming weeks, the chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, will be in New York to launch a campaign to raise money for the Hagibor Senior Center, designed for the growing number of Czech survivors in need of high-quality, specialized care.

Hagibor, which is being built by a coalition of Jewish groups and Holocaust-survivor organizations, will replace a smaller facility in Prague that can no longer cope with the growing number of survivors in need of assisted-living care.

“The survivors are getting older, their health is deteriorating and their need is great,” Jelinek said. “Perhaps 50 percent of current survivors will need our assistance, as they do not have any family to support them either because of the Holocaust or because their families left during the time of communism.”

The plan for the new facility — slated for completion in 2006 — has been several years in the making. It is being supported by the Terezin Initiative, an umbrella organization for Czech Holocaust survivors; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; and the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.

The planned facility will have 60 beds with round-the-clock health-support services and a day-care center. It will cost an estimated $763,000 annually once it is up and running.

As many as 1,550 Holocaust survivors live in the Czech Republic, accounting for roughly half of the official membership of the federation and about 1.5 percent of the world’s remaining concentration-camp and ghetto survivors, according to Czech Jewish officials.

Jelinek said demand for spots at senior homes have soared despite efforts to care for survivors through a second assisted-living facility in Prague and a home-care service launched in 2002.

For now, the plan for the new facility counts on raising a third of the estimated $6 million cost from local community members, borrowing $2 million from banks and raising the final third from donors abroad and organizations dedicated to helping survivors.

The project already has some support.

Retired New Jersey businessman Marcel Bollag told JTA during a visit to Prague that he would make a “substantial” donation to Hagibor.

Bollag, 83, whose wife was born in Czechoslovakia but escaped before the Nazis came, said, “If you push Jews into a Gentile type of nursing home, it’s not a home.”

Jelinek said the Jewish community has not been able to find spots in regular private nursing homes for more than a handful of survivors, despite years of searching.

“The state also does not have sufficient capacity to take them,” Jelinek said. “We decided to try to do it ourselves because we see it as the last thing we can do for the generation which suffered the most during the last century.”

Dagmar Lieblova, the chairwoman of the Terezin Initiative, said survivors also prefer a home shared with other Holocaust survivors.

“I think many of them would prefer to stay with other survivors because they share the experience and can understand each other,” she said. “The survivors are alone as they age and we want them to live the rest of their lives in dignity.”

Jelinek will kick off the U.S. fund-raising campaign on March 7 at an exhibition at New York’s Center for Jewish History featuring the work of the late Czech artist and Holocaust survivor Alfred Kantor. The kick-off will come a day before the 60th anniversary of the gassing of 3,800 Czechoslovak Jews at Auschwitz, the largest number to be killed in a single day.

Hanus Orlicky, 78, says he can’t wait for the facility to open. Orlicky, who survived several concentration camps and a death march but lost nearly 30 members of his family in the Holocaust, lives at home with his wife and says it won’t be long before he and his wife need extra help.

“We are thinking about what will happen as we age,” he said, “and we think a person can remain independent at Hagibor. We are able to care for ourselves still, but everyday life is getting more difficult.”

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