Survivors deserve our attention

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Earlier this year, at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem, Holocaust survivor Benjamin Meed delivered an eloquent speech on the concerns facing survivors in the late stages of their lives.

Representing the New York-based American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors — the largest organization of survivors in the world — Meed spoke of the deep frustration many survivors feel at not being able to obtain financial reparations from the German government.

And he talked about the fact that many survivors live in distressing circumstances. With an average age exceeding 75, some feel lonely and forsaken. In addition to illness and other complications of aging, many find that nightmarish memories of the Holocaust are resurfacing with a vengeance.

Meed's words emphasize that now, more than ever, the Holocaust survivors in our community deserve our attention — and not just on the annual Holocaust memorial day Yom HaShoah, which this year begins at sundown Monday, April 15.

We must listen to their stories, as painful as they may be, all year. We must support the work they do to educate the public on the truths of the Holocaust. We must join in the fight to demand that, whenever possible, survivors receive reparations for the horror they endured and be given back property or money that was taken from them.

Though German compensation has been controversial, it is also an extremely important matter for many survivors on a financial and symbolic level. While time is on Germany's side when it comes to doling out money, it is not on the side of survivors. Many are dying before receiving the money that should be theirs.

German compensation programs still include many restrictions to survivors receiving reparations. Only those who were in a camp for a minimum of six months, or a ghetto for 18 months, are entitled to German compensation. And survivors can only qualify for government funds if they have minimal means.

Survivors rightfully demand that such restrictions be removed. We fully support them. We also support their right to live out their remaining years in dignity, as part of a supportive, embracing community that cares about what they feel — and what they have to tell.