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Knesset committee discusses Holocaust survivors' situation Photo: Yoni Yitzhak
Knesset committee discusses Holocaust survivors' situation Photo: Yoni Yitzhak
 
 

Shoah survivors forced back to Germany due to Israel's lack of restitution laws

Documentary shows Israel worst place for Holocaust survivors to live throughout Western world. Hundreds protest outside Knesset, demand goverment help survivors with financial difficulties

Ines Ehrlich
Published: 04.16.07, 11:32 / Israel News

Holocaust survivors have left Israel to live out the rest of their days in Germany due to the better conditions they receive there, according to a documentary program broadcast Tuesday night by Israel's Channel 2 television.

 

The documentary, Musar Shilumin (The Morals of Restitution) opened with an elderly woman speaking from her comfortable home in Berlin to two of Israel's best known docu-activists – Orly Vilnai Federbush and Guy Meroz. The woman's fluent Hebrew was spoken with an unmistakable German accent.

 

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This Holocaust survivor had left Israel to return to Germany to receive the free medication and monthly allowance provided to survivors by the German government.

 

Contrary to Israel, the German government has stipulated that Holocaust survivors in need of housing and medicine are entitled to receive them free of charge. When asked what she thought of the Israeli government's attitude towards Holocaust survivors, she said: "I would not want what I think to appear in print."

 

Meanwhile, hundreds of people, including Holocaust survivors, college students, and youth movement members, rallied outside the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday, in protest of the dire financial situation many Holocaust survivors have found themselves in.

 

The protestors began their march at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. They called on the government to help the survivors by transferring NIS 30 million to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

 

The protest was organized by “Tafnit - A New Agenda for Israel”, an organization that aims at “bringing about a significant change in Israel’s national priorities toward the broad national consensus”.

 

“Even on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it’s not enough to remember those who were killed, but also those that are with us here,” said Tafnit Chairman Uzi Dayan.

 

Years of delayed processing and neglect

The six-month investigative report took the two activists on a voyage to New York, Berlin and Amsterdam to seek out the bureaucratically withheld funds. They discovered a disappearing world, the world of 250,000 Holocaust survivors still alive today in Israel, of whom 80,000 live in dire poverty while substantial funds are withheld. 

 

The documentary pointed an accusing finger at the Israeli cabinet and at the Claims Conference, the organization responsible for recovering and distributing Jewish assets plundered by the Nazis. The Conference is supposed to transfer restitution funds to Holocaust survivors but for years has been withholding a sum of $300 million to $900 million, depending on who is asked, due to various bureaucratic reasons.

 

As a consequence of this, despite being one of the wealthiest foundations in the world, many survivors in poor health and living in impoverished conditions will not live to receive their restitution entitlements.

 

The documentary also criticized Israeli banks for withholding Holocaust victims' funds, and also found fault with the JNF, the Israel Museum and various other institutions still holding Holocaust victims' properties.

 

Locked in her home

Depicting personal stories, the documentary showed another elderly survivor called Esther who was initially interviewed at her home but by the end of the documentary had moved to a senior citizens’ home after falling over and lying on the floor for hours until she was able to get to the phone to seek help.

 

Her allowance totals NIS 1,800 (about $442) a month and she had lived off her pension, often finding herself debating between the purchase of food or medicine, telephone and electricity bills. She had not left the house for four years because she needed help with her walker. She did not lock the door lest she fell and could not be rescued, until a burglar broke in and stole all the cash she had – a total of NIS 87 (about $21).

 

A nurse at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center spoke of survivors admitting themselves into the institution just for the sake of a warm bed and food. Sadly, they were later forcefully evicted.

 

The Lobby for Holocaust Survivors

The documentary covered a recent meeting held by the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors to allow victims a platform on which to voice their complaints. The lobby was founded by Knesset members Colette Avital and Sara Marom Shalev, in an effort to improve the plight of Holocaust survivors, as well as to promote legislation on the issue.

 

Numerous survivors spoke at the meeting, harshly criticizing Israel for what they called its “ruthless, disrespectful policy” towards them. “Does the country prefer the victims to die before they receive the funds they deserve?” Avital asked.

 

By the end of six months of docu-activism in an effort to bring about change, some $120,000 of restitution funds were transferred to the needy – just enough for an ad-hoc allowance of NIS 1,500 per survivor.

 

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