and David Gold
In the 1950s, Israeli Holocaust survivors signed over their restitution monies to the Israeli government, which, in return, promised to care for them in their old age. The logic was that the state needed the money to establish itself and protect its citizens.
At the same time, when the state was created, the British handed Israel all the assets and bank accounts that belonged to Holocaust victims and their heirs. But the Israelis have never returned the assets in their custody, and continued to thwart the attempt to return them. Bank Leumi, which had custody of these assets, had no right to transfer those assets to the state. In ‘004, a committee chaired by MK Collette Avital, a daughter of survivors, was established to look into the matter and located ‘,500 Leumi accounts. The committee established that the bank owed the survivors in excess of 300 million shekels (about $68 million).
The bank recently offered a paltry ‘0 million shekels (approximately $4.5 million) to the Holocaust Survivors Fund run by Zev Factor and Noah Flug, the umbrella organization for survivors in Israel. When the bank applied pressure to the Avital committee, the committee rewrote the repayment formula so that the bank would owe the survivors only a small percentage of the real total, because something is better than nothing. If heirs are not found, a process that could take years, Bank Leumi will pay the remaining survivors NIS 35 million at most, and keep the rest.
More than 80,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel are living below the poverty line with very few services offered to them. They need basic medical care, money for glasses and false teeth. After last summer’s war, the psychological problems of the survivors and their condition became more public. But no funds were advanced for treatment, and even the Claims Conference refused to come forward and finance emergency medical care. The conference released a mere $100,000 for use by Israeli survivors. As Roman Kent, the Claims Conference treasurer, said, "It was too little, and came way too late." Flug and Factor calculated that caring for each Holocaust survivor under fire in the north cost $5,000, and that 5,000 survivors desperately needed help.
You do the math ($’0 per survivor).
This happened soon after Flug and Factor said they had to close the Holocaust Fund because they had no money. Finally, the Claims Conference and the government gave them an infusion of cash, but the government is at war with itself when it comes to releasing funds to care for survivors.
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog accuses the Finance Ministry of not implementing the plan to support Holocaust survivors. The Finance Ministry refuses to accept any proposal from the Social Affairs Ministry, even after the budget was cut. Until recently, the Finance Ministry was headed by Abraham Hirchson, who resigned in disgrace after a series of scandals that included allegations that he took funds from the Claims Conference and March of the Living. Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the Likud Party.
In his treatment of Holocaust survivors, Hirchson followed in his predecessors’ footprints. When Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister, he threatened to destroy the Claims Conference unless he was given complete control of the allocations and negotiations. His bullying failed, but the survivors in Israel continue to suffer, because his legacy remains.
Avital’s committee forced the creation of something called Hashava.org.il, The Company for Locating and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets. Hashava was established in Israel by virtue of the Holocaust Victims Property Law (5766-‘006). It has published the first list of 6,000 properties and assets owned by Jews in Europe prior to World War II. The list can be viewed on the organization’s website http://www.hashava.org.il in Hebrew or in English on www.americangathering.com.
Applications in English are available at americangathering.com and will be published as the centerfold in its next issue. In the next few months, another 54,000 assets and accounts will be listed. But it will take years for people to prove who they are. The list was checked against the lists of victims at Yad Vashem to make sure that those on the list actually died in the Holocaust. No one who had an account and is still alive is listed, and those not on the list can call or write Hashava to find out if they have any unclaimed assets.
It is a waiting game — the longer it takes to determine which survivors get money, more survivors die, and the organizations get to keep a larger piece of the leftovers.
In the meantime, everyone wants to jump on the money bandwagon. Survivors’ descendants in Israel have filed suit against the German government for $10 million over a three-year period, to pay 1′,000 to ‘0,000 for psychotherapy. They blame the Germans for their parents’ bad parenting and their own neurosis.
Studies show that, as a rule, these people are better adjusted, more successful, and have a better grasp of reality than most of their peers in any ethnic group. Are Israeli children of survivors sicker than most because of the war pressure cooker they live in? If that’s the case, it is the Israeli government’s responsibility to care for them. Why sue the Germans?
Israeli society should stop looking for handouts from American Jews and everyone else under the sun, and take responsibility for its own citizens. They should never allow 80,000 survivors to starve.
Why should the Claims Conference fund major Israeli hospitals, even on a pro-rata basis, when those hospitals have millions upon millions of dollars in their budgets?
What is really at issue in Israel, and also in the United States, is the way the Jewish community treats its Holocaust survivors. In the end, it is not the responsibility of a third party to take care of them. When money is short, the Jewish community should provide it, not just to their favorite causes, but also to impoverished survivors and their distressed sons and daughters. Each community should take of its own people, whether they are survivors or not.
Take responsibility. Don’t wait for governments. Take care of your poor Holocaust survivors wherever they are, and stop waiting for someone else’s money to pay for it. As New Jersey’s Sen. Frank Lautenberg once said, when members of the Jewish community complained that they didn’t have enough money for certain Jewish projects: "Dig a little deeper."
It’s a disgrace when the most fragile of the Jewish community, the elderly Holocaust survivors, are dismissed as a drain on budgets, but their life experience, namely the fact that they lived through the Holocaust, is the basis for political, financial, and emotional exploitation. Anyone who wants to raise funds for their favorite cause — whether it’s fighting anti-Semitism in Europe, interfaith conversation, Jewish continuity, or other matters that engage Jews — uses the Holocaust as a bludgeon. Enough.
Jeanette Friedman, founding president of Second Generation of North Jersey, and David Gold, member of the National Council of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, are working on a forthcoming book, "The Snake Made Me Do It: Ten Lessons from The Holocaust."