Survivors in Need: “We were saved from the Holocaust, but not from poverty and loneliness”

Written by Hadar Gil-Ad. Published in Hebrew by YNET. Translated into English by HHC

Gertsiah had a stroke and is unable to pay for transportation to the treatments; Loubov and her husband are economizing in order to survive on NIS 2,000 a month; Lilia, who recovered from cancer, is left alone after she was widowed.

Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors are forced to choose between buying food, prescription medicine and heating in winter: “I am sad that this is how the State of Israel forces me to grow old, that I am being neglected”.

“Remember and not forget” – this is one of the main slogans of the Holocaust and Fallen Heros Remembrance Day, the activities for the eve of which begin this evening (Wednesday, April 7th, 2021). But in spite of the emphasis not to forget the horrors that the Jewish people experienced during that time of darkness, it seems that in Israel of 2021 a large part of those who survived the days of the Holocaust and who still live among us, is forgotten and abandoned by the country from economic and social standpoint.

Today approximately 174,500 Holocaust survivors and victims of anti-Semitic harassment during the time of the Holocaust live in Israel, and estimated quarter of them are below the poverty line. A new survey carried out by the Foundation for Welfare of the Victims of the Holocaust, which provides assistance to 60,000 survivors annually, paint a harsh and painful picture of hardships that the survivors are forced into during the last years of their lives.

Condition of Holocaust Survivors in Israel

51% In need of basic food basket45% Have difficulties covering household expenses33% Of those in need of dental treatment are unable to pay for it
 84% Are forced to forego vital products and services because of financial difficulties 25% Have no consistent connection with a family member10% Have no family connections at all 
Source: Foundation for Welfare of the Victims of the Holocaust

The survey shows that 51% of those questioned are in need of groceries. A third of those stated that their need is very serious. In fact, economic conditions of many Holocaust survivors are such that in the absence of assistance and help, they are forced to deny themselves the most basic things: eye glasses (43%), dental treatment (33%), hearing aid (27%) and other things.

But besides harsh economic needs, very many survivors in Israel suffer from loneliness, which worsens their situation by far. 25% of those questioned said they are not in contact with members of the family; in 10% this leads to irritation and further 25% said they are desperate for human company.

“The post-traumatic effects on the survivors defined and dictated part of their needs for many years” – said the former Minister Limor Livnat yesterday.  Today she is the Chairperson of the Foundation for Welfare of the Victims of the Holocaust. “Growing old added other needs, characteristic of their age: more need for care, adapting the apartment for the nursing needs, someone to accompany for medical treatments, hearing aid, etc. Of course, the loneliness intensifies with the passing of years. We are proud of our ability to reach 60,000 survivors a year, but there is no doubt that the needs are much greater and we are making much effort to raise resources in the country and the world”.

It’s hard that no one visits us.

Loubov Isaakov is 93. She has to stay in bed almost all day in a rented apartment in Tel Aviv. Her state of health is very hard. “I am almost never up”, says she, “I am suffering from bedsores and I am completely blind. My hearing is almost gone and I have very high blood pressure”.

Yakov Isaakov, Loubov’s husband

When WWII came to the USSR, Loubov was 12. “The Nazis got to Ukraine and our whole family fled,” she says. “We walked on foot for 100 kilometers before we could get to the train and go to Caucasus. We lived there for three months, till the Germans got close, and we continued to flee. Life on the run is tragic, and this is how we lived for years. Fearing noises, shelling, not knowing what would happen to us tomorrow. We lived in constant fear of Germans getting to us. We were always on the run and always worried that we wouldn’t have anything to eat.”

After the war, Loubov and her family lived in Uzbekistan. She studied to be a schoolteacher and got married to her husband, Yaakov. They had three children. In 1997 they decided to make Aliyah to the Land of Israel, and from then on they found themselves in a different kind of survival. “Our economic situation is hard,” she sighed. “We are living on allowances of the National Insurance Institute and on rental subsidy. Every month, after paying rent, we are left with NIS 2,000 for both of us. With this amount we need to buy medicines that are not included in the basic health basket (not subsidized), food, and to pay bills. We were saved from the Holocaust, but not from poverty and not from loneliness”. According to what Loubov Isaakov says, they suffer from loneliness more than from economic hardship and from ill-health, “We are very lonely. Nobody comes to visit us. This is the hardest for us”.

The house is full of dampness and mold, electricity is disconnected and I cannot pay.

When Gertsiah Itach from Kiryat Yam tells about her financial difficulties, she can hardly hold back her tears. “It’s very hard for me”, she says. “I am living on an allowance from the National Insurance Institute. Part of the money goes to the caregiver, and what’s left is for my sustenance: food, water, electricity and municipal tax. I can’t afford to buy gifts for my grandchildren’s birthdays. I can’t cope with the cost of electricity; sometimes I do not turn on heating when I am cold, I cover myself with a blanket”.

I am sad that the State of Israel so much neglects me – Gertsiah Itach

During WWII Gertsiah was a little girl in Morocco. “During that time we lived in fear,” she remembers. “The Arabs did pogroms and burnt business premises. We were afraid. We were shut up in our homes, but knew that the situation wasn’t good. My parents were always anxiously listening to the radio”.

In 1948, with the restoration of the State of Israel, Gertsiah made Aliyah. 20 years ago, her husband died from cancer. Since that time she’s been dealing with difficulties single-handedly. “My house terribly stinks from the mold. The walls are full of dampness and mold. Electricity is disconnected in some rooms, I don’t know how to pay.”

Her state of health is also complicated: “I have heart problems and blood pressure. Three years ago I had a stroke. My left arm and leg do not function. I was sent to physiotherapy, but I need to pay for a taxi NIS 100 each direction to get there and to come back. I am supposed to go there twice a week, and because I can’t afford the transport fare, I do not go. I am sad that this is how the State of Israel forces me to grow old, that I am being neglected”.

The Worst Thing is How the State of Israel Behaves Towards People Like Me.

Lilia Shtainberg (76) from Ashkelon was born in Romania two months before the end of WWII, but the war continued following her and her family. “I had no childhood,” said she yesterday. “My mother’s traumas were the reason. I was forbidden from going outside without her even for a moment. I did not go to kindergarten. She was always afraid that I would die. She had a terrible depression and was physically ill as well.” In 1961, when Lilia was 15, she made Aliyah to Israel with her family. 

This country causes me to lose my self-esteem – Lilia Shteinberg

“I am very angry at the State,” said she yesterday. “What is the foundation of a normal country? Education, healthcare and the elderly. But it looks like they want to kill them. I want to ask Mr. Netanyahu if he can live on NIS 4,000 a month. If he says yes, he is a magician, and I’d be happy if he gives me a recipe for how he does it.

Up till now, because of coronavirus, I was receiving an allowance of NIS 3,400, but they wrote to me that they cut it down to NIS 2,200. Don’t you have any shame at all? If you want me to die, come and shoot me! That would be more honest.

My husband has died. I am alone and suffering from pains all the time. Two years ago I had cancer. I always think that it’s better for me to die. What reason is there for me to live? I am ill, I can’t even put shoes on my feet. And the worst thing is how this country behaves towards people like me. They cause you to lose your self-esteem, and that’s terrible. They walk over you till you don’t feel like a human being.

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