‘The survivors … deserve to live out the remainder of their lives in dignity’
A special report by the state comptroller published days before Israelis mark Holocaust Remembrance Day paints a shocking picture of government failure to extend help to Holocaust survivors, who are dying at the rate of 1,000 a month.
The report, issued Wednesday by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, describes poor government coordination, a failure to use funds already budgeted, complex laws that are difficult to navigate for aging survivors — many of whom can neither use the internet nor are sufficiently proficient in Hebrew — and a complete lack of government support for survivors who arrived in Israel in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union.
“More than 70 years after the end of World War ll, survivors are living in Israel today in conditions that are not worthy or their various needs are not being met in a satisfactory way,” the comptroller wrote.
Some 158,000 survivors live in Israel, in addition to 56,000 individuals recognized as the victims of racism and anti-Semitism. Their average age is 85.
The report found that despite a government decision to expand welfare services for survivors and allocate NIS 60 million ($16.5 million) for the purpose, the Social Welfare Ministry had failed to finalize a program for use of the funds or to seek Finance Ministry approval for the program.
As a result, in 2016, the ministry managed to use just NIS 4.3 ($1.2) million of NIS 27.3 ($7.4) million that was available.
“Because of delays in approving the program and allocating it funds, Holocaust survivors are being prevented from getting services that could improve their welfare, including hot meals, medical treatments, emergency buzzers, and mainly social activities which could reduce, in no small way, the feeling of loneliness,” Shapiro wrote.
“In light of the age and medical condition of Holocaust survivors, the delay in the provision of necessary social services is critical, and any delay causes significant harm to to the survivors’ welfare, whose numbers are dwindling.”
Shapira went on to slam the Holocaust Survivors’ Authority at the Finance Ministry for failing to coordinate between the various bodies, within and outside of government, that are supposed to help survivors. This failure, he said, had created a vacuum in the provision of some services into which nonprofit and other extra-governmental organizations had moved.
These nongovernmental bodies worked without any guiding hand, without agreed priorities, without coordination between themselves or between them and government, and with inefficient allocation of budgets.
In November, the state comptroller slammed the same survivors’ authority for failing to return some 84 percent of properties and assets to Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Wednesday’s report also criticized Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for not having established any rules for the continued operation of the Holocaust Restitution Company, which is due to end in 2017. The company helps survivors by using the proceeds of property that has not been claimed.
It also found that survivors who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and who today make up around a quarter of all survivors in Israel have not been made eligible for monthly stipends and often live in extreme poverty as a result.
“The case of this population is not being heard,” the report says. “They don’t have pensions or an alternative economic base other than national insurance benefits. For lack of any other option, they make do and live modest lives and give up on meeting basic needs.”
“The way the state treats Holocaust survivors at the end of their days is likely to influence the memory of the Holocaust for future generations and to serve as a test case for its treatment of the entire elderly population in Israel,” Shapiro concluded.